Growing number of UL students presenting with suicidal thoughts, anxiety and low mood puts strain on UL's counselling service.
The number of UL students presenting suicidal ideation has more than tripled in the last academic year.
 
Sixty-six students reported extreme thoughts of ending their life to UL’s Counselling service in the academic year 2016/2017 versus just twenty-one students the previous year. 
 
There are currently 80 students on the waiting list for one-on-one counselling sessions with Éist Student Counselling and Wellbeing. Students on the waiting list can expect to wait three to four weeks before seeing a counsellor.
 
Roberta Harrington, UL’s Students’ Union (ULSU) Welfare Officer, said funding has been released in the past couple of weeks in order to help clear the waiting list as quickly as possible and have each student seen before the end of the semester. 
 
The demand for Éist’s services is increasing year on year with 1,200 students availing of one-on-one counselling last year. Growing waiting lists mean many students seeking help are left waiting weeks before they can be seen.
 
One second year student went to Éist Student Counselling and Wellbeing’s drop-in centre in late October and was told via email that evening that the head counsellor recommended one-on-one counselling.
 
Alex* was informed there was a four-week waiting list but that someone would contact her soon to make the appointment. She is yet to receive an email or phone call from the service. 
 
“They said if I was struggling I could go back to the drop-in centre to talk to someone, but why would I go in the first place if I wasn’t struggling?”
 
For those lucky enough to secure one-on-one counselling, the support available can be lacking. One student availed of UL’s counselling service in her first year. After attending the drop-in centre, an appointment was made for her the following week.
 
The day before her second session, it was cancelled. 
 
“I rang several times to schedule another appointment but never got an answer,” Lauren explained. “I felt undeserving in their eyes of the help I needed.” Lauren has not associated with the counselling service again.
 
For others, their experience with Éist is “mixed.” Shannon, a third-year student, said she’s had three different counsellors in her time at UL, and different relationships with each.
 
One counsellor told the student, who suffers from an eating disorder, to “just eat.” However, Shannon felt the last counsellor they availed of went “above and beyond” for them. “Towards the end she had to cut my sessions in half to accommodate other students. I felt like I was being rushed out, or rushed into getting better as the counselling service wanted to look after ‘emergency cases.’”
 
Shannon’s experience ended with the counsellor agreeing to try squeeze in another session within a week or two.
 
“In the end I actually never got that session, despite being in a very poor mental state at the time and in need of help. I understand that the counsellors are restricted due to being understaffed, but personally I think it takes almost the 6 weeks to build a relationship with a counsellor and make progress, by the time you make a little progress you’re essentially pushed back out.”
 
“I think it’s a short-term solution to long term problems so the root cause is never really fixed.”
 
Eimear is a fourth-year student who has availed of on-campus counselling twice in her time in UL. She also said she felt pressured to finish after six to eight weeks.
 
“I actually stopped going because I felt bad going back to it after one or two comments were made to me about finishing up.”
 
“At the time I felt as if they were saying “Okay you should be fixed now, off you go.”
 
However, Eimear said she now feels this was not the case. “The counselling department have very limited resources and a semester is only 14 weeks long.”
 
“I’ve suffered with an anxiety disorder from the age of eight, and had a lot of deeply rooted problems. There was no way that any counsellor could help me with that in the space of six to eight hours. This isn’t the counselling departments fault, they’re limited in what they can do.”
 
The fourth-year student said she’s been to a number of different counsellors in her life and feels that in UL “once the surface of your problems had been scratched it's like “Okay, that’s done. I don’t find counselling like that to be successful and I know a lot of people who don’t.”
 
Addendum / Fact Box
1,200 students, of which 400 are first years, avail of counselling services in UL
In addition, 50 - 60 students use the drop-in-centre weekly.
Gender breakdown of students attending counselling in 2016 was 54% female and 46% male.
36% of students in counselling from Arts & Humanities department despite this department making up only 16% of the student population.
Most common clinical issues were anxiety (771) and low mood (668), similar to stats over the last 3 years. 
168 students rated their risk of dropping out as extremely high on initial assessment in AY 2016/2017, after attending the counselling service 122 of these students remained in college, graduated or internally transferred.
 
*All names have been changed to protect sources identities. 
 
Statistics provided by Dr Declan Aherne (Head of Counselling, Éist Student Counselling and Wellbeing) and Dr Des Fitzgerald (UL President).