Students badly hit by counselling cuts

Beset by gnawing worries of failing an exam or of not finding a job here in Ireland’s ongoing economic crisis, and with their peers leaving in droves to seek work abroad, it is not surprising that depression and anxiety are increasing at an alarming rate among third-level college students.

Contrary to Finance Minister Michael Noonan’s glib description of the tsunami of emigration as a “lifestyle choice”, for the vast majority of students who depart this country every year, going abroad is no holiday. Tens of thousands of young people who leave these shores to seek work in Australia, Canada, Britain, and other European countries, give the lie to that flippant portrayal.

For students now seeking academic and technical qualifications in colleges up and down the country, the challenge is daunting and explains why so many are now turning to campus counsellors for help.

The problems students have to cope with include the wave of suicides among young Irish people. Either directly or indirectly, everybody knows of someone who has taken their own life. No doubt, as the leading cause of death among the male population aged between 15 and 24 years, it is a hot topic of conversation if not a cause of anxiety to students who may have suicidal thoughts.

The crucial importance of counselling becomes apparent in the face of the complex issues that can trouble a student. Depression and anxiety are the most common problems after the major issue of academic difficulties, which give rise to the ever-present fears of not passing an exam. In psychological and real terms, flunking an exam can be the difference between success or failure in carving out a career.

Students also have to cope with relationship difficulties either in the home, where the Government’s austerity programme may be adding to the hardship of out-of-work parents, or with fellow students, as well as personal loss, self-injury, addiction, or deterioration of physical health.

Yet, as illustrated by today’s revealing front page report, a combination of staff shortages and growing waiting lists means it can be months before a student is seen by a counsellor. According to the Irish Association of University and College Counsellors, the number of students seeking their help has jumped by 33% while the number of students in third level has risen by 16% since 2007. In a disturbing trend, however, staffing of counselling services fell by more than a quarter, according to the My World 2012 survey.

With nearly of college students believing life is not worth living, more counsellors are urgently needed Against this disturbing backdrop, the prospect of reducing the need for one-to-one sessions by spending more time on seminars or advising students on life issues that can set off problems, is bleak indeed. The challenge facing counsellors is convincing students to remain in college.

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