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Students Seeking Help On The Rise

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By Ann Cronin

Demand for counselling services in colleges has jumped by 40% over the past decade, said UL’s Head of Counselling Dr. Declan Ahearne.

In a recent article in the Irish Times, it was revealed that the number of students seeking help for mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, relationship problems and academic issues has reached new highs.

Dr. Aherne said that there are a number of reasons for this increased “tsunami” of mental health problems affecting students over the last few years, including stigma reduction and a rise in mental health difficulties.

“The mental health promotion campaigns have increased demand, but students are coming to us with more complex problems now too. We have two-to-three-week-long waiting lists for counselling,” Dr. Aherne told the Irish Times.

The number of students attending the counselling service in UL has doubled over the past five years.

The Head of Counselling also said that the rise in students attending third-level colleges is a significant factor as well, with recent reports estimating that more than 60% of secondary school students continue on to further education.

Among this increase is a rise in students with learning needs, including mental health difficulties.

Esther Murphy, author of the report Mental Health Matters: Mapping Best Practices in Higher Education, said: “The stresses of the transition to the third level, the move away from home, the workload, new friendships, all may trigger a latent mental health difficulty.”

Current college students are also some of the firsts to experience the many mental health awareness campaigns going on in universities all across the country.

Student-led campaigns such as Please Talk and Chats for Change encourage students to talk about mental health problems and seek help if needed.

However, Dr. Aherne believes that there is much more that needs to be done in order to accommodate the growing need for mental health services in colleges.

Many colleges offer limited counselling on campus but a lack of funding is preventing these services from being developed.

“Funding for such counseling services currently comes from the core funding provided by the Higher Education Authority.

Some college counsellors say the Health Service Executive should fund colleges for the free counselling services they offer,” Dr. Aherne added.

The “stepped care” at UL includes free daily drop-in workshops on wellbeing and resilience, timetables for which can be found in the Student Counselling Service, on their Facebook page, or in the Students’ Union.

Students can call into Welfare Officer Caolan O’Donnell for more information about these workshops.

Students can step up from these workshops to talk therapy for six to eight weeks, longer-term talk therapy if needed and, at the top step, specialist medical or psychiatric supports.

Students can move up or down from each services depending on their specific needs.

For more information on this, contact the Student Counselling Service or visit the daily drop-in sessions in the main building.

Welfare Officer Caolan is known for being vocal about struggling with his mental health in the past.

“I went to one-on-one counselling for about six months. I did the drop-in workshops at UL to help me deal with my mood, my thinking, and my behaviour.”

Peer support has also been found to be very useful for students, although less than a third of colleges currently have this.

Murphy’s report also called for mandatory mental health training for lecturers and stated that mental health services should be pointed out to students as part of their college induction in the first year.

Dr. Aherne said he remains adamant that mental health issues need to be dealt with before academic concerns.

“The academic supports are a back-up to addressing the primary mental health difficulty. If they don’t have the mental health issue addressed first, the learning won’t happen.”

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