When it comes to mental health, Trinity cannot be faulted for effort. The College’s most recent Mental Health Week was marked by a diverse range of events – meditation workshops, journaling classes, and lectures on avoiding burnout – giving the impression of a college that understands the broad spectrum of mental health issues that students can face. There is no question that this support and awareness-raising is of crucial importance: with Ireland having the fourth-highest rate of suicide in the world among men aged 18 to 24, it is absolutely imperative to draw attention to mental health at college level.
Amid these conversations, however, it has been all too easy to overlook the diverse ways in which students can be affected by mental health. With such high depression rates, and public figures like Bressie now speaking openly about their own personal battles, we are at risk of perceiving mental health issues as just depression and anxiety, with little room for anything else. But the fact is that there are a whole range of issues that can affect one’s mental health, from eating disorders to schizophrenia, to personality disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and anything in between.
It has been easy to overlook the diverse ways in which students can be affected by mental health.
We already know that mental health is one of the main reasons for high dropout rates within third-level education, but there has been a lot less research done on which particular mental-health issues play the largest roles and how each one impacts a student’s experience. A 2016 report by the Association for Higher Education Access & Disability found that, while there are excellent mental-health services in place in universities, there is a need for more awareness around what services are available to help students deal with their particular issue.
The same report also found that there was very little communication between disability services and teaching faculties, signalling a lack of awareness among lecturers and tutors on the nuances of different mental health issues and how they impact on student learning.
As I see it, Trinity’s Student Counselling Service runs with relative efficiency, especially given the allocated resources and sheer size of Trinity’s student population. A student or staff member can attend an assessment and receive eight counselling sessions. Service users are allocated slots based on their assessment, and don’t require a doctor’s referral.
There are also emergency appointments and the option of taking up a cancellation. Other mental health services could follow this example, as far too many people fall through the cracks during complicated bureaucratic processes, leading to serious delays in getting help or a diagnosis.
The problem with the service at it stands, however, is that the support it offers mainly benefits those with depression, anxiety or burnout. In order to receive any formal recognition (such as disability allowance or educational support), a student would need a medical diagnosis. And, in contrast to the Student Counselling Service, the College Health Centre can be a minefield of long waiting lists and lengthy referrals.
While a student can make an appointment with either the College Health Centre or the Student Counselling Service, they will need a referral from one of these bodies to attend a psychiatrist (which is imperative to receiving formal diagnosis) through College.
Given the waiting list for both services, this means somebody with a lesser-known mental health problem could potentially be waiting twice as long for an appointment, and have to go through as many as three separate services within the college. For somebody really struggling or at breaking point with their mental health, this can be hard to take.
Somebody with a lesser-known mental health problem could potentially be waiting twice as long for an appointment
The College Health Centre’s website provides brief summaries of mental health issues that are common among students: panic or anxiety, depression and eating disorders. This is highly revealing.
It might seem a minor issue, but with so much stigma and lack of awareness already surrounding the lesser-known mental health issues, College should really be striving for a more inclusive environment for those who do fall into this category. This includes highlighting these issues in a prominent place on their website.
Trinity has successfully opened up a conversation around mental health in recent years and College has taken many steps in the right direction to support students in need.
But there is a danger that this is “soft” dialogue which overlooks lesser-known mental health problems, which are often the most stigmatised of all.
Depression and anxiety absolutely need to be addressed, both at college level and nationwide, but there is equal need for more information, support and research for those suffering from other mental disorders, too.