Number of students seeking counselling surges

The number of college students seeking counselling is up by one third, with depression and suicidal thoughts among the reasons why they look for help.

However, counsellors say cuts in staffing are causing longer waiting lists with some students waiting months for appointments.

The Irish Association of University and College Counsellors (IAUCC) say that, while numbers in third level have risen 16% since 2007, those seeking their help are up 33% — and staffing of its services have fallen more than 25%.

IAUCC treasurer Kay Walsh said lengthening client lists are probably rel-ated to the economic situation and lack of supports elsewhere. She said it is alarming that, after academic problems, depression and anxiety are the most common issues affecting students attending services.

“It’s often to do with not having part-time jobs, a lot of parents are out of work and that’s putting extra pressure on students while going through college. Our main function is to help them remain in college,” said Ms Walsh, a counsellor at Cork Institute of Technology.

Other issues bringing students to seek help are:

* Relationship difficulties, including family and class relationships;

* Personal loss;

* Self-injury;

* Suicidal thoughts;

* Addiction;

* Physical health.

Counsellors also help students deal with eating disorders, sexual issues, and the move from school to college or away from home.

The My World 2012 survey found almost half of college students have thought life was not worth living. But most who have serious problems do not seek help, according to the study by University College Dublin’s psychology school for mental health charity Headstrong.

The IAUCC has more than 70 counsellors at doz-ens of colleges, but president John Broderick said provision of services has not kept pace with student numbers.

“Services are seriously overstretched and waiting lists have become unacceptably long. This lack of ability to respond in a timely and adequate manner to student distress has been amplified by the fact that the numbers of full-time equivalent student counsellors have declined by 26%,” he said.

One institution recently reported a 40% decrease in capacity, Mr Broderick said.

“The ability to respond quickly to students has been the hallmark of college counselling services for years. It’s sometimes difficult enough for students to knock on the door, but when they’re making contact and they can’t be seen for six or seven weeks, many of them either continue to struggle on, or drop out, or have to go to parents to find money for treatment.”

The changing profile of campus populations is a factor in growing demand, and a lot of the 196,000 full-time and part-time students go to college with pre-existing mental health conditions.

With higher numbers of mature students, Mr Broderick said there are more life issues to cope with, and international students may encounter cultural difficulties or other problems settling into college life.

He said staff would prefer to spend more time on seminars or in classes advising students on issues that can set off problems, and helping to reduce the need later for one-to-one sessions.

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