According to a new report, there was a 46% increase in the number of incoming students registering with a mental health condition for the academic year 2016/17.
The Association for Higher Education Access and Disability (AHEAD) released a report which examines the numbers of students with disabilities in higher education for the academic year 2016/17. The increased number of students registering with a mental health condition represented 14% of all new students registered with a disability last year.
The report also found that approximately one-quarter of students who registered with a disability in 2016/17 were not in their first year of study. With a noted increase over the last few years of the study, the report finds that this indicates a growing number of students beginning their studies with no disability support. The report notes that this “can have a negative impact on retention rates if not addressed”.
Although it still remains the largest category, the percentage of students registered with a Specific Learning Difficulty fell as a percentage of the total student population with disabilities every year for the last six years. Since 2010/11, there has been an almost 20% drop in the number of students registering with a Specific Learning Disability, down to 41.1% in the current survey.
The largest increases of new students registering with a disability were in the number of students registering under the ADD/ADHD category which saw a 70% increase from 2015/16. The Mental Health category was the second largest with 46% from the same year. The Irish Universities Association (IUA) conducted a recent report on the Disability Access Route to Education (DARE) Scheme found that the number of applicants with mental health difficulties had increased by 400% over the past 6 years.
In terms of field of study, Education Science contained the largest number of students with a physical disability, while Agriculture and Veterinary was the least popular field among these students. Humanities and Arts held the largest number of students with mental health problems while Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction contained the least number of students registered with a mental illness.
AHEAD also asked the responding institutions to provide information about the numbers of staff with responsibility for supporting students with disabilities and the number of learning support staff employed by the responding institutions. According to the findings, the average number of students with disabilities per disability support staff was 167 while the average number of students per learning support staff member was 475 .
Ann Heelan, Executive Director of AHEAD commented on the findings of the report. She said that the growth in the number of students registering with a mental health condition is “significant but of no surprise” to AHEAD.
She continued: “Supports are improving at second meaning more students are coming through and a positive change in public attitudes to mental health is resulting in students feeling more comfortable in disclosing to support services on campus.”
Heelan also stated that more needed to be done by higher education institutes to address this. “Our Mental Health Matters research from 2016 indicated that creating a positive culture of disclosing mental health conditions is really important. Clear policies and procedures for college staff on what to do when someone discloses to them can also prove very effective in ensuring that students get the support they need.”