Tuesday 23 January 2018

Rising number of school pupils seek help with mental health

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

GROWING numbers of teen pupils are seeking one-to-one help about mental health issues from school guidance counsellors – who don't always have the time to see them.

And even when they do, there may be delays in getting an appointment with the psychiatric service, or a bed, according to the Institute of Guidance Counsellors (IGC).

Pupils are being asked to monitor a pupil who may have suicidal thoughts, or other issues, while waiting for health experts to step in, they say.

Guidance counsellors raised their concerns about the impact of cuts amid fears of even more staffing reductions in schools after the forthcoming Budget.

The service has been under pressure since last September, when schools were stripped of the time allocated to career guidance and one-to-one counselling.

It involved the loss of 500 teaching posts in 700 schools. Many guidance counsellors now spend more hours in the classroom teaching a subject.

Pupils are increasingly presenting with mental health issues, putting huge pressure on schools, according to the IGC.

IGC spokeswoman Betty McLaughlin said there was a definite trend of more pupils seeking help.

"Their parents may be under pressure and they do not want to burden them further," she said.

An added problem is that the cuts have applied differently in schools and have led to an uneven and disjointed service, and would "institutionalise inequality in our education system".

The impact is most marked in small schools and schools catering for disadvantaged communities.

'UNSAFE'

As well as the loss to pupils, the cuts have put counsellors under "unsafe and unsustainable pressure" because they were unable to deliver a quality service.

Counsellors have reported feelings of anxiety and guilt because of their inability to deal with the workload.

"There is a significant danger that such work pressures will inevitably affect their health and well-being and will have knock-on consequences."

A survey found that one-to-one counselling had, on average, been halved in schools, and in some cases eliminated.

Education: Pages 22 & 23

Irish Independent

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