Counselling service encourages students to talk

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week in DCU, The College View spoke to the Head of the Counselling and Personal Development Service, Helena Ahern, who is a Psychologist/Psychotherapist, to find out what services are available to students experiencing problems and what issues are affecting young people in Ireland.

The main service available to students is one-to-one professional counselling, which Ahern says is “confidential and non-judgmental”. The purpose of these sessions is to see “what could really help a student in whatever predicament, situation or personal circumstances they’re experiencing while in college, especially when it interrupts with their college life”.

A student’s first meeting with the counselling service usually lasts an hour. In the first session, the student gives an overview of what brought them to the counselling service and what they hope to get from the counselling.

As well as the one-on-one counselling, the Counselling and Personal Development Service are running a six week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Series every Wednesday lunchtime, starting November 7. Ahern received very positive feedback last year when they ran it and she hopes they’ll get the same interest this year.

She recommends students that are interested in going along attend all six sessions for a richer learning experience. Students are not required to register for the talks and there is no fee, however there will be a CD and a booklet available to students for the small price of €10.

There are a number of ways a student can contact the counselling service to make an appointment. Students can register their details online in confidence, under the ‘how to make an appointment’ section on their website, Students will then be invited to come into the centre to give more details and will then be given an appointment.

How quickly a student gets an appointment to speak to a counsellor depends on the time of year. According to Ahern, December is the busiest time of the year. While students wait for their appointment, they keep in contact with them as well as offer them other options. However, no matter how busy they are, Ahern says emergency cases will always be dealt with.

When it comes to the issues young people have, Ahern says all counselling services across Ireland see the same reoccurring issues. “We get a lot of people who experience high levels of stress; anxiety is very high. Depression is very high and I think this is a reality, it’s becoming less shocking for people because I think it’s being named more which in a way I think is a good thing.”

Difficult relationships from home and break-ups also affect students who come to counselling. However, Ahern makes the point that often when a break-up is the issue, there is something else behind that causing the problem. Self-harm and contemplating suicide is also a reality, Ahern points out.

Two other issues affecting young people in Ireland that Ahern feels are worth mentioning are financial strains and alcohol consumption.
In terms of financial strains, “if there’s pressure financially, anything else that’s pressurised in that system is going to be more intensified, because now there’s another layer of stress on top of everything else”.

She believes alcohol consumption is a “very real problem. There’s very intensive binge-drinking and then forgetting where they are, putting themselves at quite a risk, blanking out and the following day not knowing what happened and getting anxious because they don’t know what happened, what did they say, how did I get home.

“The alcohol itself is a depressant and especially when you poison the system in a binge like that. Then if anyone is prone to feeling down, they’ll go down further, or if they’re anxious their anxiety goes up.”

For apprehensive students who want to talk to a counsellor, Ahern says the service is confidential and suggests students “come along and try one session and see what it’s like yourself.

“The whole thing isn’t about judging a person it’s more about what can we actually do together that will really help and that while it does require a certain amount of courage to make the jump, the potential benefits are quite rewarding.

Nothing is going to be forced so I would say to students trust yourself and trust your own reaction to the counsellor.”

Ahern says her room is not an office set-up and she’s right, it’s not. There is a desk with an office chair behind it, but in front of that there are two comfy armchairs, one in which she sits during sessions. ‘Thank you’ cards are spread around the room. The window is tinted so that no one can see in and there is a sign on the window asking passers-by not to stand at it.

Ahern feels young people are opening up more about their mental health, however there is still the stigma there and the belief that you should keep your problems to yourself.
“There’s a lot of good work being done to bring down the stigma and opening up the prejudice.

“Having said that, there is still a lot of stigma there as well that still needs to be worked on.

She believes the more DCU pulls together as a community, the more we can do to bring down the stigma and promote mental health.

Students can contact the Counselling and Personal Development Service by phoning 017005165, visiting the website, or by calling in to CG72 in the Henry Grattan building.

The phone number for the Niteline service, which allows students to speak confidentially to fellow students is 1800 793 793.

Ahern’s advice to students is “if you’re experiencing something, do it sooner rather than later. Reach out to someone you feel you can trust.”

Aoife Mullen

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