The Athlone Institute of Technology Students’ Union (AITSU), supported by the Institute and Student Support Services, is calling on the government to invest €3 million in mental health counselling to reduce the strain on support services on third-level campuses and to ringfence a further €55 million annually to tackle Ireland’s growing mental health crisis.
As part of the call, the AITSU has organised a mental health demonstration, entitled ‘I am a person, not a statistic’, to coincide with World Mental Health Awareness Day on October 10th. The protest, which will kick off at 2 pm after a talk by SpunOut.ie Founder, Ruairí McKiernan, will see students march from Athlone Institute of Technology to Burgess Park.
Speaking ahead of the demonstration, AIT SU Vice President of Welfare and Accommodation Aine Daly said: “While our institute has been extremely proactive in trying to meet the needs of our students, competing demands for limited resources are making it extremely difficult. We’re marching tomorrow to highlight the €3 million investment needed nationally to support our counselling services and reduce the strain on an already over-burdened system,” she said.
A new report, published by the Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education (PCHEI), shows the number of students accessing counselling services has increased by 40% over the last decade. In the last year alone, 6% of students enrolled in higher education (approximately 14,000 students) have accessed counselling services, making third-level institutions the single biggest providers of psychologically-based mental health services in Ireland.
According to Head of Counselling at Athlone Institute of Technology and PCHEI Spokesperson Treasa Fox, counselling services in colleges across the country are struggling to keep up with demand. “The number of students currently enrolled in higher education is estimated to be 190,000, with one counsellor designated for every 3,000 students. This is double the number recommended by international guidelines and has caused huge delays in students accessing treatment,” she said.
Delays in treatment can have staggering consequences for students, both in the short and long-term. The academic year is made up of two twelve-week semesters, so if a problem occurs or becomes unmanageable mid-semester, without adequate intervention, a student could fail their exams, causing further emotional and financial distress. It’s worth noting that Ireland has the fourth highest death by suicide rate in Europe amongst young people aged 18-24.
According to Ms Fox, there is also an economic argument for investing in mental health services on college campuses. “An increase in government funding now, will increase capacity and dramatically reduce the national dropout rate, saving money later. The students we support now will go on to become significant contributors to society in financial, community and social terms.
“They are our future business leaders, engineers, IT specialists, medical and pharmaceutical developers, entrepreneurs, nurses, social care workers and politicians. An investment in our students is an investment in the future of our country.”
For many years, the AIT Students’ Union and other student-led societies, such as ‘Please Talk AIT’, have been extremely active in promoting positive mental health and reducing the stigma around mental health difficulties on-campus. These campaigns have been enjoyed great success and have been instrumental in encouraging students to access the Institute’s counselling and psychological therapy services.
Commending the AITSU for their continued efforts in championing mental health services and causes, Ms Fox added: “Our students feel very strongly about this issue and will not be silenced. They are seeking to be heard by the highest echelons of our government and won’t rest until the mental health crisis facing students in this country is addressed. I’m extremely proud of their efforts in this regard.”
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Athlone Institute of Technology is a modern and dynamic HEI distinguished by outstanding learner experience, international focus and applied research and innovation. Awarded Sunday Times Institute of Technology of the Year, AIT is ranked 8th nationally of all HEIs in the league table comprising of Irish Universities and IoT’s. Athlone Institute of Technology boasts a wide array of courses in the Faculties of Engineering and Informatics, Business and Hospitality, and Science and Health. For the full list of courses on offer at Athlone Institute of Technology click here.