A report released today by the Union of Students in Ireland has revealed the extent of the mental health struggles suffered by many students in Third Level education.
The report, titled 'National Report on Student Mental Health in Third Level', which was compiled from survey data collected from 3,000 Third Level students in Ireland, found that the pressures of college life are causing many to suffer from symptoms of both depression and anxiety.
Over the past decade there has been a general feeling that mental health issues were becoming ever more commonplace among the student populace and that Third Level institutions were falling short in their efforts to provide sufficient care to those in need. However, there had been no substantial data collected prior to this survey documenting the scope and scale of this problem. As such, this study was carried out by the USI, and funded by the HSE, so as to help comprehensively investigate the issue.
The results of the study showed that approximately a third of students experienced mental health problems - either directly, or partially fuelled - by their time in college. It showed that some 38% of the students surveyed declared that they've experienced extreme levels of anxiety, and some 30% suffered from depression.
What's more, the report highlighted that many students were suffering acutely from loneliness and a sense of profound isolation. Some 20.9% of students stated that they had no one to talk to concerning their personal and emotional struggles. Indeed, the extent to which this issue was made prevalent can be shown by the fact that only 11.6% of those surveyed stated that they didn't feel lonely. Aside from whether a student had someone to confide their concerns about their mental well-being with, some 9% of students declared that they felt lonely all of the time.
The USI's Vice-President for Welfare, Roisin O'Donovan, appeared on RTÉ's Morning Ireland today to discuss the study. She said of the results, "They're quite shocking and they're quite sad figures as well, because obviously behind each and every one of those statistics is a student."
"It's a shame that it's kind of gotten to that point as well. Students are under so much stress at the moment in Third Level education."
The report also highlighted that financial pressures were a significant contributory factor toward students encountering difficulties with their mental health. The survey highlighted that those who described themselves as not having stable accommodation reported the highest rates of depression, stress and anxiety.
"I think that's a really, really big concern," said Ms. O'Donovan, "and I'm really not surprised about those stats because the accommodation situation we're in at the moment, students just can't find accommodation that is affordable."
She continued, "Students are having to either have full-time or part-time jobs within their courses, and then they can't really experience the true student experience. They're having to not attend lectures, not fulfill their course as much as they'd like to, and then sometimes having to repeat or maybe drop out."
There was a strong association shown between financial insecurity and an increased tendency toward having difficulties with depression, anxiety and stress within the report. 77% of those who took part in the survey described themselves as being dependent on financial assistance. Given the exorbitant costs of renting within Ireland, and the plethora of needlessly expensive private student accommodation that proliferates in Irish cities, the financial burdens placed on students are overly-onerous.
Indeed, this is indicated by the fact that students surveyed who were studying abroad reported lower levels of depression, anxiety and stress - indicating that the inflated costs of living and renting in Ireland are one of the key drivers in the mental health crisis among Ireland's student populace.
It is a positive step for data to have been collated to highlight the extent of the problems with mental health in Irish Third Level institutions. However it is now up to Mary Mitchell O'Connor - who attended the launch of the report today - and the Department of Education to implement concrete measures to provide greater mental health services within Irish universities. Indeed, beyond the Department of Education, it seems to provide further proof - not that any more had been necessary - to show that sweeping steps need to be taken to help curtail and constrain the disproportionately inflated rental prices throughout the country.
You can read the report in its entirety here.