Content Warning: Suicide
International student Chengan Peng arrived in Auckland in January 2017 to start a foundation studies course at the Academic Colleges Group (ACG). His longer term goal was to study economics at AUT.
Seven months later, Peng was found dead in his room at Unilodge in Auckland. He had taken his own life.
Peng, a 20-year-old from China was described by his family as polite and focussed. He was sociable and had lots of friends in China. He was in to BMX riding and brought his bike with him to NZ.
He was in good physical health and had no history of mental health issues. He came from a caring and stable family.
A friend of Peng’s said he last saw Peng after an exam on June 22 2017 and he seemed OK. Another friend chatted with him on Facebook on 1 July.
On 3 July, Peng’s father was concerned about not hearing back from him and contacted ACG asking if someone could check on his son. That afternoon ACG staff found Peng’s body in his Unilodge room.
CCTV footage from UniLodge showed Peng last returning to the building around 7.20pm on June 29.
Chengan Peng – Coroner’s report
Three years on from the Chengan Peng tragedy a NZ coroner investigating the death has found that ACG was “insufficiently attuned” to address the risks of student depression and self-harm at the time that Peng died. The coroner reportedly added that ACG’s resources “fell short” of what should reasonably be expected of a provider seeking enrolments from young overseas students.
All NZ educational institutions enrolling international students must comply with the Education Code of Practice 2016 which sets out the outcomes education providers and their agents must deliver for international students.
Since the death of Chengan Peng, ACG was acquired and is now known as UP International College.
UP’s executive principal Mark Haines said at the time of Peng’s death, ACG’s practices were consistent with industry standards.
He said that UP has taken action to better support its students:
In line with policy review guidelines and continuous improvement, over the past three years we have put in place a raft of additional support functions for students.
Our understanding of mental wellness as a society continues to evolve, and as an organisation we are committed to adapting learnings and best practice into our operations in order to create an environment where our students have the wrap around support needed to feel comfortable to reach out for mental health services.
- increasing training for staff so they can identify issues and warning signs
- giving all international students access to free counselling sessions and 24/7 support
- employing a counselor to develop a new process to follow when students of concern are identified
Students at particular risk
As part of her report, the NZ coroner referred to a Stuff investigation which analysed 270 coroners’ reports into student suicides from 2007 to July 2019.
One in three of those cases showed no prior mental health concerns, with only 48 per cent of the affected students ever seeing a doctor or mental health professional to discuss their wellbeing.
The average age of the students was 22, and 61 per cent of them were men.
Among the contributing factors mentioned regularly in the coroners’ reports were:
- difficulties with studies
- financial problems,
- international students feeling isolated
- relationship breakups
- diagnosed mental illness, and
- feelings of loneliness.
Where to get help in New Zealand
Lifeline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 354
Depression Helpline (open 24/7) – 0800 111 757
Healthline (open 24/7) – 0800 611 116
Samaritans (open 24/7) – 0800 726 666
Suicide Crisis Helpline (open 24/7) – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO). This is a service for people who may be thinking about suicide, or those who are concerned about family or friends.
0800 WHATSUP children’s helpline – phone 0800 9428 787 between 1pm and 10pm on weekdays and from 3pm to 10pm on weekends. Online chat is available from 7pm to 10pm every day.
Kidsline (open 24/7) – 0800 543 754. This service is for children aged 5 to 18. Those who ring between 4pm and 9pm on weekdays will speak to a Kidsline buddy. These are specially trained teenage telephone counsellors.