Student anxiety levels at all-time high

By Andrea Byrne and Paula Bowden

The number of students suffering from anxiety has doubled since 2012, according to a National Study of Youth Mental Health in Ireland. The findings show that in comparison to the previous study conducted in 2012, the amount of teenagers aged 12 to 19 suffering from severe anxiety has doubled from 11% to 22%. Levels of severe anxiety in young adults aged 18 to 25 have also seen an increase from 15% in 2012, to 26% in this year’s survey.

The report also showed that females in particular have declining levels of self-esteem compared to males of the same age. There is also an increased level of depression among young people.

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) launched their national report on student mental health at the beginning of this academic year. Taking into account the experiences of over 3,300 students in Ireland, the report shined a light on the varying mental health attitudes of students and their experiences in accessing help and treatment. 

“32% of students have been formally diagnosed as having a mental health difficulty”

Among the findings in the report were that 38% of students said they experienced “extremely severe” levels of anxiety; 30% of students said they experienced severe levels of depression, and 17% felt severe levels of stress at some point.

32% of students have been formally diagnosed as having a mental health difficulty, while one fifth of students said they did not have someone to talk to about their personal and emotional difficulties.

“Third Level education is a key life transition and can be an extremely stressful time for students. We already know that levels of mental illness, mental distress and low wellbeing among students in higher education is increasing” according to a statement from the USI.

Commenting on the results of the report, the USI said: “Students in third level education are exposed to many stresses, which trigger or exacerbate mental health difficulties.

“These include living away from family and friends for the first time, coming directly from a structures learning setting, as well as many students taking on additional work commitments to support themselves financially.”

“In terms of of waiting periods, many students agreed that waiting periods were too long”

“Over half of respondents strongly agreed that a free face-to-face service is important on campus. Students were least likely to attend group therapy if offered by the outselling services.

“Many students said they would attend counselling, but students also said that they did not think their problems were enough to warrant counselling. In terms of of waiting periods, many students agreed that waiting periods were too long.”

Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), TheCity.ie has obtained figures relating to the number of counsellors employed, and the finances allocated to counselling services in the following Irish universities: Trinity College Dublin, Technological University of Dublin, Maynooth University, University College Dublin and Dublin City University.

According to www.tcd.ie, there are 17,000 students currently studying in Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

Academic Year Expenditure on Trinity College Dublin counselling services Number of counsellors allocated to the counselling services
2017/2018 €1,517,050 10 (Full Time Employee 6.59)
2018/2019 €1,674,858 10 (Full Time Employee 9.20)
2019/2020 (to date) n/a n/a

According to www.dit.ie, there are 20,000 students currently studying in TU Dublin (TUD). 

Academic Year Expenditure on Technological University Dublin counselling services Number of counsellors allocated to the counselling services
2017/2018 €466, 676 (2017) 5
2018/2019 €480, 475 (2018) 7
2019/2020 €389, 673 (2019 to date) 7

According to www.maynoothuniversity.ie, there are 14,000 students currently studying at Maynooth University (MU).

Academic Year  Expenditure on Maynooth University counselling services  Number of counsellors allocated to the counselling services 
2017/2018 €300,000 (Full Time Employee 2.6)
2018/2019 n/a n/a
2019/2020 n/a n/a

An FOI request was submitted to University College Dublin and Dublin City University in relation to expenditure on their counselling services, and the number of counsellors allocated, but have not responded for time of publication.

TheCity.ie spoke to Patricia Murphy, a counsellor at Trinity College Dublin, who said: “I think that universities and third level colleges are all really trying to meet the needs of a specific age group in the population of 18-24. All of them are trying to provide the services of the mental health banner to students.

“They’re providing one-to-one student counselling, groups and workshops on psycho-education which deal with issues such as anxiety and depression. They’re trying to do lots of outreach through various social media groups, they do a lot at orientation to really try and get people in earlier so that they do not crash and burn.”

She said that TCD uses a ‘student-to-student service’ where student volunteers, who are well trained, can support other students in the university.

Credit: pxphere.com

 “All universities and third level colleges around the world are experiencing huge rise in demand for services. It seems to me that the mental health of that age group, well maybe all age groups are needing more services,” she continued.

The current Minister for Education has seen that two million euro is being given to counselling services, so there is acknowledgement that there needs to be more, which is great, but of course we need more resources in order to meet the growing demand. It’s very difficult, because colleges are hard pressed for money to devote more to this.”

Patricia said that often people assume that students use counselling services to deal with stress, but that isn’t true: “People come with a variety of issues and some tend to be quite serious in nature. Depression and anxiety are the highest issues in the population anyways, there is a rising level of anxiety in our society that’s being mirrored. Other issues are to do with relationships, bereavement, or loss.”

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