The Association for Higher Education Access and Disability (AHEAD) released a report on February 7th, which showed a 46% increase from the previous year in the number of third level students reporting having mental health issues. The survey was carried out over the 2016/2017 academic year. The report refers to students who are registered with disability services in higher education institutions in Ireland.
The report was conducted by AHEAD to document the number of students with disabilities making the transition into higher education, according to the executive director, Ann Heelan. UCD was one of the 27 institutions that took part in the survey. Heelan later went on to describe the increase as “significant but not surprising,” in an interview with the Irish Times. The increase in the number of students coming forward about their mental health is a positive step for removing the stigma surrounding this issue, but unfortunately it will most likely put a strain on the services provided to students by the universities.
Last December, the University Observer learned that there were 194 UCD students waiting to see a counselor in the UCD Health Centre. Welfare officer, Eoghan Mac Domhnaill told the University Observer “some people will be waiting until next semester [to see a counselor.” The positivity of student openness is met with questions of how will services provide for the increase in the number of people trying to avail of them.
A possible avenue that could be explored is the recent re-joining of Niteline by UCDSU. Niteline provides a phone service for people needing to talk to someone outside of office hours. While the phone service can provide immediate assistance for people, the long-term effectiveness is sometimes called into question due to the irregularity of calls and the distance between provider and recipient, as opposed to the scheduled sessions between private counselors and patients.
Other services that will no doubt feel the strain of an increase of cases, are the likes of Pieta House and Samaritans. Both services rely heavily on volunteers and money raised from fundraisers to function effectively. Last March, Samaritans released “Dying from Inequality,” a report that found suicide rates to be twice as high in deprived areas, specifically among those working in “manual, low-skilled employment.” Although Heelan has stated that “supports are improving,” students who report mental health problems, and are living in low income households seem to be at risk of going without treatment due to the strains on free services and the high prices of private counselors and therapists.
The most recent report from AHEAD found that students with disabilities now represent 5.7% of the total student population and one out of four new registrations to disability services were not in their first year of third level education. These figures imply that not only are students with mental health issues underrepresented in higher education, but also that there are students who enter higher education, and go through their first year without support from their college or university.
Despite the statistics showing a movement toward openness about mental health, there is still much that can be done to treat and accommodate those who suffer from mental health problems.
If you are struggling with your mental health you can contact Pieta House at 1800 247 247 or pieta.ie, Niteline at 1800 793 793 (between 9pm and 2:30am) or niteline.ie, and Samaritans at 116 123 or samaritans.org.