A HSE funded report published by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has found that one third of students are experiencing “extremely severe levels of anxiety”.

The National Report on Student Mental Health in Third Level Education surveyed 3,340 students on aspects of their experiences with mental health and mental health services in third level education. 

The majority of students who took the survey (88.3%) were enrolled in an Undergraduate Degree. Students who were repeating an element of their course were more likely to be on the extremely severe end of all mental health difficulties.

38.4% of surveyed students said they suffer extremely severe levels of anxiety, 29.9 per cent reported experiencing depression and 17.3% said they experience severe stress.

32.2% had received a formal diagnosis of mental health difficulty at some point in their lives.

8.9% of surveyed students said they felt lonely all of the time. 

Gender had an influence on anxiety, depression and stress levels. Non-binary students had the highest levels of extremely severe anxiety symptoms at 61.3%. Female students followed at 41% experiencing anxiety. Stress levels correlated with this, however, male students were found to be more depressed than women. 

Over half of transgender students reported suffering with severe anxiety and depression.

A quarter of students said their mental health problems often impacted on their studies at university. Over ten per cent said it affected them all the time.

However, almost half of the students surveyed said they would not have considered leaving college due to their struggle with their mental health.

Most students were made aware of support services through their Students’ Union, however, a fifth of students still felt they did not have someone to talk to about their personal and emotional difficulties.

A total of 41.8% of those who participated in the study were receiving social welfare support of some kind. Many were dependent on financial assistance from parents, partners as well as bank and Credit Union loans.

The survey found that a free campus counselling service was important for students.

The counselling service in UCD is available free of charge to students. However, The University Observer reported in 2017 that the waiting list had reached the highest it’s ever been for a number of years.

Students are seen on a priority case by case basis. Students who are on the waiting list for more than two weeks can be referred to external counselling services, but similar waiting list scenarios are often encountered there too.

Úna Carroll, UCDSU Welfare Officer, said she did not wish to comment on the matter at this time. 

Students spoke about the difficulty balancing their mental health and college at the same time. One student, responding to the USI survey, said “I couldn’t see the CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) nurse until the summer because I had college but when I did get to talk to the CBT nurse I found those sessions very helpful.”

The HEA and HEI recommended the introduction and utilisation of online services, peer support and group workshop and/or sessions. They acknowledged that more investment is needed to meet the growing demand for free counselling services in colleges.

It was also recommended that research and peer support programmes be “standardised, further developed and expanded.”