On August 27th, the Union of Student’s Ireland (USI) revealed the results of a monumental survey on the mental health of Ireland’s student population. This survey provides reliable self-reported figures that will provide lobbyists sufficient evidence to demand action from Universities and the Government.
Over 3300 students took the survey, and some of the key findings are as follows: ‘Students are experiencing extremely severe levels of anxiety (38.4%), depression (29.9%) and stress (17.3%). Close to a third (32.2%) of students had a formal diagnosis of a mental health difficulties at some point in their lives. A fifth (20.9%) of students did not have someone to talk to about the personal and emotional difficulties. Most students (35.3%) were made aware of support services through their Students’ Union. A free on campus counselling service was important for students.’
These statistics are worrying, although of no surprise to the college student of today. The mental health crisis on our hands is not emerging from nowhere but ascending from the depths and only now are we beginning to realise how bad the problem is. Although the data is concerning, UCDSU President Joanna Siewierska is looking on the bright side saying, ‘It’s just great to have data that we can continue using for lobbying. We always knew this was happening before this report came out, but it is great to have the data to continue pushing.’
To find out what UCDSU is doing in the wake of this survey, we talked to Una Carrol (UCDSU Welfare Officer) on what part she has to play here. She said, ‘UCDSU are already speaking with and lobbying different TDs about students’ mental health and the impact of the modern student experience on young people and their mental health.’ When asked on waiting lists, as this is a common complaint amongst student in UCD, Carrol responded, ‘I am working closely with the counselling service in UCD to help develop new ways of looking after our students and tackling the issue of waiting lists and delays in support.’
The survey is available online and comes with an extensive list of recommendations and critical evaluations: ‘Mental health of third level students has been largely absent at government policy level, impacting on the sectors ability to respond to the growing problem of student mental health. […] Students value the free student counselling services on campus, and this should continue to be supported and funded. Care for those on waiting lists should be prioritised and promoted. This may include utilisation of online services, peer support and group workshop and/or sessions. More investment is needed to meet the growing demand for services. […] Institutions should review their balance of coursework and assessment and consider what impact this has on students. Students should have free periods and should be facilitated to access supports available to them when necessary.’
UCDSU has had a reasonably rocky recent history when it comes to mental health campaigns. Last year’s ‘392’ campaign bombed hard with many students. Last year’s Tribune Co-Editor Muireann O’Shea published a scathing commentary on this campaign, with many such issues being confirmed with the data now available through the survey. She said, ‘Student backlash against the campaign has been mounting, the general consensus is that it was ill-conceived, insensitive and even harmful to students.’ The campaign centred around the advertisement of the mystery number ‘392’ followed by a grand reveal of it being the rate of suicide in Ireland over one year. O’Shea commented: ‘the binary number removes all nuance and does exactly what the campaign claims it is trying not to do; reduce these lives to numbers.’ UCDSU Welfare and Mental Health team has a tough year ahead. Tackling this issue will certainly define their sabbatical.
Conor Capplis – Editor