The University Observer has learned that there are currently 220 students on the waiting list for the counselling service in UCD. When signing up for counselling, students are not even being given a timeframe in which to expect an appointment but are told that if they do not receive an appointment within two weeks they will be referred to external counsellors with the cost covered.
The situation is the same for priority cases, who are also being directed to counselling services outside of UCD after two weeks on the waiting list. The usual procedure is for students on the priority lists to be seen within two weeks in the UCD Health centre.
Prior to the semester one exams, the University Observer reported that there were 194 students on the waiting list for counselling services in UCD. Speaking at the time, Welfare Officer Eoghan Mac Domhnaill said he expected that many of those students would be waiting until semester two to see a counsellor.
A possible headline for this story could read: “Students Waiting Too Long for Counselling in UCD,” and it would be nothing new.
This is a story I am sick of hearing. I am sick of hearing that UCD students are waiting weeks, months even, to talk to someone. Reaching out when you need help can be so hard to do, and then to reach out and be told you’ll have to wait several weeks before you can receive counselling can be a serious knock.
I have my own experiences of getting help for mental health problems in UCD, and for me it was a very positive experience, all things considered. I had depression and anxiety problems long before I ever decided to seek help, I battled in my own, and quite self-damaging way, but towards the end of my third year, I buckled under the enormous pressure I put on myself and had a terrifying panic attack.
A staff member arranged for me to go the Health Centre where I was seen within half an hour, and two days later I met a counsellor. For reference, this was in week 10 of semester two. I attended four counselling sessions, and they changed me for the better. The main difference that came out of those sessions was that I learned how to ask for help, I learned how to not be okay, and how to deal with living with a chronic illness.
Because I could be seen when I needed help, I was able to be helped. If I had gone to the health centre and asked for a counselling appointment to be told I would have to wait weeks, I would not have had the courage to say it was an emergency, or to ask if I could be seen as a priority case. I would have gone home, and I would have continued to suffer in silence, and I don’t know that I would be where I am today.
People’s health is too important to wait weeks. It is all too easy to imagine that things can become even more difficult for people within a matter of days, let alone weeks.
That students will be able to receive counselling off campus is taking the service away from being a student-service, and it makes it more difficult to get the help you’re looking for. Going for counselling is daunting enough without having to worry about getting a bus to Blackrock and back to UCD in time for a lecture.
The time is long overdue for UCD students to demand more funding for the counselling service. That students can avail of counselling free of charge is wonderful, but not if that service is unable to meet the demand, and the demand is there, 220 students are waiting to receive that help.
There are currently 14 people running for sabbatical positions next year, mental health, and college stress is mentioned on 11 out of those 14 manifestos, this is an issue that people want to improve. Decreasing, or completely abolishing, the waiting list for counselling services is repeatedly mentioned.
Candidates are also highlighting areas in UCD where students’ mental health is at risk, such as for residential assistants (RAs) who have been, and continue to be, required to deal with students living in on-campus accommodation who may suffer severe mental health problems while in their accommodation. The underfunding of counselling services is a failure in these cases to both RAs (who are also students and are offered no counselling after dealing with traumatic events) and to students living on campus.
To improve the problem, UCD needs to investigate hiring locum counsellors who would be available during peak times of the year when the service is under most pressure, but additionally, more space would need to be found where additional counselling sessions could take place. These are achievable goals, and it’s time UCD students started demanding better services.
When we look to the students of Trinity College Dublin who are protesting the €450 supplemental fee that the university is planning to implement, we see students who are passionate and care. Students in UCD do care about the pressures on the counselling service. They do want to see change, but this message isn’t being conveyed loudly enough to the powers that be.
Enough is enough. Let this be the last time the University Observer publishes a story about the length of the waiting list for UCD counselling services. It’s time UCD students and the Students’ Union shouted from the rooftops that we won’t wait any longer, it’s time for change.