USI calls on all Political Parties to Commit to Mental Health Reform before the General Election

The Union of Students in Ireland is calling on all political parties to commit to mental health reform and suicide prevention before the General Election. The number of students reporting mental health issues has increased, but as a result of hiring restrictions most colleges can’t afford to hire extra counselling staff to meet the demand.

Research by USI found that 73.1% of students said the high cost of college causes them anxiety or stress; 71.7% of students regularly feel down – 36% of students feel down every day; and a further 35.7% feel down every week.

“Ireland has one of the highest levels of participation in third-level education within the EU, according to Careersportal’s 2013 Eurostat Figures.” Kevin Donoghue, USI President, said, “The importance of promoting positive mental health among the large third-level student population cannot be underestimated, with research showing a high percentage of students experiencing mental health difficulties including depression, anxiety, loneliness, substance misuse and suicidal behaviour (Vision for Change, 2006). An action plan for mental health promotion in third level should be included within the development and implementation of a Health Promoting College Network. Waiting lists for counselling can be up to six weeks which raises serious concerns for students in distress. Crisis response should be urgent and 24/7 – waiting a month and a half is harmful for anyone in need of support.”

According to research by ReachOut, the online youth mental health service, 63% of students reported that lecture attendance has been affected by their mental ill-health. ReachOut also found that 15% of students rated their mental health as ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’.

“Access to 24/7 crisis intervention services is extremely poor. Some patients who go to A&E with a mental health crisis face lengthy waits of 8 hours or more before receiving support.” Donoghue added, “Extra support should be provided for community-based mental health supports to provide 24/7 crisis intervention services.”

USI said the next Government should produce a detailed, time-lined Action Plan to continue the reform of mental health supports and improve the mental health of the whole population, ensuring that adequate funding and the structures for good governance and oversight of the plan are in place.

“We are urging the government to increase funding given specifically for the provision of adequate counselling services to all third level students either through the direct employment of more counsellors or in purchasing external counselling session hours.” Donoghue said, “The next government should deliver more funding to Higher Education Institutions, specifically allocated for counselling staff and mental health services.”

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