Monday 16 September 2019

'Depression and stress affecting a high number of third-level students'

USI president Lorna Fitzpatrick
USI president Lorna Fitzpatrick
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

Up to two in five third-level students are suffering severe levels of anxiety and many more feel depressed or stressed, according to a new survey.

New research on mental health among students paints a worrying picture of the extent of the pressures and struggles they experience.

The 'Report on Student Mental Health in Third-Level Education' was compiled by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI), with the support of the HSE Mental Health and the National Office for Suicide Prevention.

The research explored the incidence of mental health distress and ill health among students and the availability and use of mental health support services for that population.

It highlights different factors that influence anxiety, depression and stress.

It found women are more likely to suffer anxiety than males but non-binary students had the highest levels of severe anxiety.

Experiences also varied depending on the type of college, whether it is inside our outside Dublin and the student's area of study.

The survey, conducted in 2018, was open to students in every third-level college, North and south, and most of those who responded were undergraduates, aged 18 to 24, and three-quarters - 74pc - were female. One in five identified as LGBTQ+ and just over 1pc identified as transgender.

Key findings include:

:: Almost two in five - 38pc - are experiencing extremely severe levels of anxiety, with 30pc reporting suffering from depression and 17pc experiencing stress. There may be overlap in these figures;

:: Nearly one third - 32pc - reported they had a formal diagnosis of a mental health difficulties at some point in their lives;

:: About one in five - 21pc - did not have someone to talk to about the personal and emotional difficulties;

:: Students use on-campus and off-campus services to support their mental health and slightly more than a third - 35pc - were made aware of support services through their students' union;

:: Free on-campus counselling is important for students;

:: Working affected students' ability to socialise with classmates;

:: Those involved in activities outside of their coursework had better mental health.

Although the study had a large response of 3,340 students, the element of self-selection and female dominance in replies means the findings may not be an entirely accurate representation of the student population generally.

However, the authors say it has many strengths and provides clear evidence on issues relating to student mental health and mental health service use, which had been anecdotal before now.

They say the transition to college coincides with a time when students are most at risk of developing mental health difficulties and the research proves there is a high level of clinical need across the student population.

The report also points to wide discrepancies between institutions in terms of the quality of care offered to students and recommendations include a quality assurance tool to ensure consistency.

USI president Lorna Fitzpatrick said students had provided a wealth of data which would be used to improve mental health services at third level for all students.

Irish Independent

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