The UCD Health Service are currently unable to indicate when next a regular appointment to see a counsellor will become available. As of Monday, ambulance 39 people were on the waiting list to use the counselling service in the state’s largest university.
The trend is indicative of strained mental health support services in universities across the state, sildenafil as providers struggle to keep pace with increasing demand.
Since 2006, cure student enrolments at third level institutions have increased by 16% nationally, while the number attending university counseling services has increased by 33%.
One mental health professional in an Irish University told the College Tribune, their service had half a dozen students on suicide watch over the past week.
The College Tribune contacted counselling services in the state’s seven universities. UCD were unable to state when next a non-urgent appointment with a counsellor would be available. However, all other universities were able to provide a regular appointment within two weeks.
UCD keeps a number of counselling slots open daily for students in urgent need of attention, often these slots are filled through referral from a GP.
Trinity College Dublin, and universities in Maynooth, Galway and Limerick all offer a drop in service whereby students can meet a counselor for an initial assessment.
UCD, DCU, and UCC do not offer a drop-in service, however both DCU and UCC were able to provide a non-urgent counseling appointment within ten days.
Dr. Sandra Tighe, Medical Director of the UCD Student Health Service explained UCD’s lack of a drop-in service is “largely a resource issue, in that if you are going to see someone for an assessment you have got to have somewhere to slot them in after you assess them and it’s difficult to assess somebody and say ‘well there is a waiting list of three months’ or whatever.”
The UCD Student Health Service currently employs three full time and three part-time counsellors. However, one of the full-time staff members is currently on maternity leave and has not been replaced.
“We’re down one person so that is going to affect waiting lists,” Tighe explained.
“If nobody leaves, if nobody gets sick, if nobody goes on maternity leave, you’re kind of coping to some extent. There has always been more demand than supply, but then if someone goes off on leave of any kind it’s very very difficult.”
The strain on services in UCD has occurred, in part, as resources have not kept up with increasing number of students attending the university. Tighe said that although resources available to the student health service have improved since its establishment “it certainly hasn’t kept pace with the demand or kept pace with the number of students in the university.”
The problem in UCD is indicative of challenges facing similar services across the state, with similar staffing issues being reported in UCC, DIT, and elsewhere.
In the University of Limerick, the number of students using the University’s counseling service has increased from 500 students to 800 students in the past six years – however, this has not been met with a matched increase in resources.
Dr. Declan Aherne, a spokesperson for the Irish Association of University and College Counsellors (IAUCC), and Head of counselling services at the University of Limerick said that the strain on university counselling services is multifaceted.
The de-stigmatisation of mental health support services has led to more people seeking help. Dr. Aherne explained, “we spent years and years encouraging people to come out and talk, and now they are coming out to talk and we’re saying ‘sorry we really can’t see you, come back when we have the time,’ I mean that is ridiculous.”
“Every service across the board is experiencing a huge increase in demand on services, a lot of it is due to a much more complex student profile presenting at third level – it’s not a homogenous group anymore. A lot of access programmes bring in mature students, people with disabilities including mental health problems, and also people with financial difficulties, and there has been a huge growth in international students so you have such a different group of people than twenty years ago,” Dr. Aherne explained.
Students are increasingly presenting to services with more severe psychiatric problems. According to an IAUCC report, the number of students presenting with mental health concerns has increased across the board in the past six years. Anxiety disorders have increased from 19% to 32%; depression from 9% to 24%; relationship problems from 11% to 24% and academic related issues from 19% to 29%.
Dr. Aherne has called on the HSE to help tackle the mental health crisis on Irish university campuses.
“It makes far more sense economically to provide student counselling on campuses than to be trying to get people to access public health services off campus in the HSE.”
“The HSE has got to start investing something into student mental health because if they don’t, what will happen is universities will say this is none of our business, they’ll close their doors and we’ll have the queues lengthening outside the psychiatric out patient clinics and day hospitals, and that benefits nobody. It creates a backlog for everyone and we’ll see more and more suicides and all sorts of crazy tragedies,” Aherne warned.
Dr. Sandra Tighe explained that although “replacing lecturer’s posts are going to probably be more important than student health or student counselling,” when universities are assigning funds, services, like counseling, can play an important role in student retention. “If people are not given the help they need when they need it, it may contribute to them leaving college,” she added.
The UCD health service enlisted the help of an external counselling provider to help cope with demand last year and Tighe said they are currently exploring all options to help keep waiting times to a minimum again this year.
A spokesperson for youth mental health charity, Spun Out, described it as “unacceptable” that anyone would have to wait weeks to see a counsellor.
Tighe said that students who are struggling should not be deterred from seeking help due to waiting lists.
The UCD health service keeps a number of counselling slots free each day for urgent cases and for students who may feel extremely distressed.
Students can also make an appointment to see a GP on campus and are encouraged to contact their student adviser, or the Students’ Union.
The Union has a dedicated Welfare Officer, and works closely with an external counselling service that may also be able to provide help for students in distress.