By Leah Kilby

Leah Kilby details of data that shows it’s possible Irish students could be facing a mental health crisis.

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For over 18 months third level students have been studying remotely before colleges officially opened in September 2021. Research shows, however, that studying remotely might have had a larger negative impact than people would have expected.

A research report by Aontas showed that over 50% of third level students have been struggling with their mental health during the pandemic. To many people this is not surprising as the lack of socialisation and stimulation for the better part of a year has now begun to show its effects in students. 

Research on the psychological impact of online learning of students during the pandemic from spun-out.ie shows that the students that participated in the study were all feeling the impact of online learning on their mental health. Spunout CEO Ian Power had this to say about the effect on newer students.

“First years have a sense this academic year is going to be written off. They’re completely missing out on opportunities to get to know classmates, lecturers, and the wider college community. And second years had their first year cut short – they know what they’re missing.” 

In 2019 the Irish Times published a study done by the higher education authority that showed that Ireland had a record number of applicants in third level education with over 231,000 students in higher education in 2017/18. Ireland was also projected to become one of the EU’s countries with the most students progressing to higher education. If the study by Aontas is correct we can assume that over 115,500 students are currently struggling with mental health issues, is that not a crisis in itself? 

In an article by the BBC it was suggested by Joshua C Morganstein, assistant director at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress that these mental health problems will not simply disappear when things start to reopen.

“If history is any predictor, we should expect a significant ‘tail’ of mental health needs that continue long after the infectious outbreak resolves.”

Health experts like psychotherapist Yuko Nippoda have suggested that there might be possible long term effects, especially on those who had previously experienced mental health issues previous to the pandemic. 

“There are many people who suffer from anxiety already in our modern society, but because of this deadly disease, people who tend to feel anxious more easily will continue to feel this and the condition might worsen,” 

Before the pandemic mental health in students was a topic that had begun to be talked about more. According to mental health Ireland it was shown that Ireland had one of the highest rates of mental health illness in Europe at 18.5% in 2016. Now that we are seeing the effects isolation has had on many students’ mental health has there been any extra efforts to rectify this situation?  

Surprisingly very little is currently being done.

There has been a recent call made for the improvements of mental health services. In a recent article from the Journal.ie, Dr Anne Doherty states that there should be no defunding of health services. “All we can say is that our mental health services are at a crisis point,” Ireland has not been previously known for having a huge mental health services and with the incoming mental health crisis that experts are predicting Ireland could be in big trouble.

Currently the budget for mental health has been set at 1 billion euro representing 5.2% of the health budget whereas in 2019 the budget of 990 million euro represented 6.3%. A significant decrease considering the situation. The psychiatric nurses association critisied the government’s decision in this funding. 

“The Budget allocation appears to totally ignore the added demand on mental health services at all levels which it is widely accepted will be one of the unfortunate legacies of the Covid -19 crisis. Meeting these demands will pose significant extra challenges to our already underfunded and understaffed mental health services.”

The 2022 budget allocated €1.149 billion for mental health resources, however this only makes 5.4% of the overall health budget, making only a 0.2% increase to 2021.

For third level students in Ireland the after effects of covid may be significant if there is no government help. It is possible that Ireland might be facing a major mental health crisis for students in the years to come.