Job cuts and negative stigma blamed for students not willing to discuss mental health issues

By Monica Heck

Only one third of students would admit to experiencing mental health problems, according to a recent survey.

The survey was conducted by See Change, the national mental health stigma reduction partnership. It showed that while the student population is overwhelmingly sympathetic to the mental struggles of others, the majority of students would opt to hide the fact that they were suffering from mental health issues.

Campaign manager for See Change, Kahlil Thompson-Coyle, explains that these results are not surprising.

“There is so much fear,” she says. “If there’s silence, there’s stigma and if there’s stigma there’s silence. We are trying to break the silence by generating a national conversation about mental health.”

“Statistics show that one in four people will experience mental health struggles at some point in their life,” she continues. “Our research indicates that young males between the ages of 18 to 24 are particularly at risk, which is why it’s important to reach out to this population through the likes of this survey or through bodies like the Union of Students Ireland.”

The government launched “A Vision for Change” five years ago as a plan to modernise health services in Ireland, and Ms Thompson-Coyle praises the most recent programme for government, which was the first to prioritise stigma reduction around mental health issues.

The on-going freeze on recruitment in the health service seems to be having great impact on the provision of mental health services in Ireland.  Director of the Mental Health Reform group, Orla Barry, pointed to a number of factors that specifically affect the sector, including the issue of staff retirement.

“20 per cent of jobs lost in the HSE in 2010 were from the mental health services, despite the fact that the group only makes up 9 per cent of the workforce,” she explains. “By next March, our sector could have lost up to 1,200 jobs and that would make us seriously understaffed.”

Ms Barry feels that any further loss of staff could have a detrimental effect on the implementation of Ireland’s “A Vision for Change” policy. She also calls for protection of the funding going to community based mental health services.

Mary Gleeson of the HSE pointed out that while the executive had to work within the bounds of the moratorium that was set by the government, there were a number of on-going initiatives such as the “Your Mental Health” campaign as well as support agreements with external agencies such as See Change, that continue to support the government’s “A Vision for Change” initiative.

Helena Ahern, head of the counselling and personal development service at DCU, explains that the social stigma of mental health problems adds to the pain as it marginalises the sufferer.

“People worry about the consequences of disclosing this information,” she explains. “Acknowledging an issue and asking for help should not be seen as a failure, but rather as an expansion of your resources and as a learning experience.”

Ms Thompson-Coyle of See Change says, “It goes beyond politics… no family in Ireland is untouched by this issue.”



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