Debate about how to improve mental health on campus dominated discussion between the vice-presidential candidates last week, with Lift ANUSA’s Tess Masters and independent candidate Sebastian Rossi clashing over the causes of student mental ill-health.

Masters and Rossi are joined by Shake Up ANUSA’s Maddison Perkins as the candidates for ANU Student Association vice-president, a role focussed on mental health advocacy, academic appeals and other internal educational issues.

Responding to a claim by Rossi that academic studies are the main cause of student stress, Masters said that the comment was ‘astonishingly misinformed’, pointing to financial pressures, difficulties with relocation and cultural differences as further major contributors.

‘That’s just a total misrepresentation… I’m not sure how you’re supposed to be focused on when your assignment’s due when you can’t make rent for the month,’ she said.

Masters said that she would focus on improving mental health literacy for students and staff. She also advocated for peer-based communication, like the programs run by Batyr, over the university’s current focus on peer-based support, which she claimed is ‘exploitative’, ‘leaving a lot of students traumatised on both sides.’

Perkins, who is the current chair of the mental health committee, spoke on the need for more counsellors at the university’s counselling service, arguing that the expanded welfare centre, to be established in the redeveloped Union Court, ‘doesn’t help students now’ and suggesting that at least one culturally and linguistically diverse counsellor would ease wait times and make counselling services more accessible to international students.

She also said that Shake Up would seek to standardise procedures for mental health disclosures and create a standardised measure of student mental health, as well as seek to take a ‘proactive view towards bettering the lives of students.’

Rossi said he would focus on establishing better crisis support lines for students, and, although stressing that he would leave his position at the Men’s Network and ‘try to be as unbiased as possible’, said he hoped to see an increased focus on men’s mental health issues.

Other issues raised by Rossi included improving ANUSA’s support for independent candidates through ‘checks and balances’ to eliminate a ‘clique’ which led to ‘support [for] a certain individual over others’, and creating a Centrelink and ANUSA liaison and advice service.

Masters added that she would combat the glorification of ‘busy culture’ around student leadership, and advocate for workplace rights, while Perkins spoke of creating a better sense of belonging and community on campus.