With the chilling news that emergency appointments with the Student Counselling Service have increased by 150 per cent, those with a stake in student healthcare provision will be wondering what to do from here. Standard one-to-one counselling appointments have shown a steady increase year on year since 2010, only decreasing minutely from 1,899 to 1,879 between 2014 and 2015. However, the sharp spike in demand for emergency counselling reflects an unmet need in the student population for urgent aid.
What this increase in demand represents is a complex question with a multifaceted answer. But from the perspective of this university, it’s a significant concern. The Student Counselling Service’s annual report from 2013 states that “students’ current needs already exceed the service’s resources”, a challenge that has not yet been dealt with. As demand continues to rise, these problems will only be further exacerbated.
The Counselling Service itself recognises the College’s desire to improve globalisation and access, but warns that failing to address service development issues – such as a shortage of full-time staff members for key projects, increasing referral rates, and reduction of staffing levels – will impede these targets. Some would argue that it is not the responsibility of the university to shoulder the burden of mental healthcare – or indeed of physical healthcare. However, when the university population contains a large number of students – particularly those coming from abroad – who are reliant on them in the absence of local services, then the support staff must either ensure that students can access affordable, consistent aid outside of a university setting, or provide that aid themselves.
Last year’s protest against the €12 million worth of cuts to mental health services in Ireland was starkly effective: the government reversed the cuts and promised that the full €35 million sum would remain earmarked for mental healthcare service development. Helen McEntee, Minister for Mental Health and Older People, concluded that “there is always more that can be done in these crucial areas, but today represents a step in the right direction”. For Trinity’s struggling counselling service, a similar financial intervention would likely have a transformative effect.