USI commemorates World Mental Health Day with a letter to Minister Harris

The letter is thanking the government for ongoing funding, but once again calling for “annual, sustainable funding for this important area”

With today being World Mental Health Day 2020, the Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI) have written a letter of action to the Minister of Further and Higher Education Simon Harris, alongside Minister of Health,Stephen Donnelly and Minister of State for Mental Health Mary Butler.

The letter is thanking the government for ongoing funding, but once again calling for “annual, sustainable funding for this important area”.

This letter, along with a day of online action, coincides with the publication of the National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework, which the USI said they were “proud” to be involved in producing.

The focal point of the union’s online campaign today will be supporting and connecting one another in a digitalized way, raising awareness of critical services, checking in with family, friends, and the wider college and higher education community. 

Speaking on the publication of the National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework, USI President Lorna Fitzpatrick observed: “We very much welcome the publication of this strategy today. It is the product of several key organisations working together to achieve a holistic, whole-campus approach.” 

She continued: “We believe supporting student mental health is something that each of us in a campus community is responsible for… For this strategy to be effective, it needs to have a partnered approach whereby staff and students work together.”

Fitzpatrick also included in her address recommendation that an “implementation group” be established in every Higher Education Institution(HEI) to include students.

Marking the ongoing correspondence between the union and government departments, USI Vice President for Welfare Clare Austick remarked: “The announcement of €5 million in funding to support student mental health was welcomed by the USI in August. It was much-needed funding that was required by the pandemic.” 

Austick also acknowledged that: “[This funding] is needed more than ever now. It will support student counselling services in tackling the waiting lists and will go a long way to supporting valuable student support work… We again welcome that funding but also outline the need for annual, sustainable funding to be committed to this important area.”

To mark the occasion, USI and Student’s Unions across the country will publish socially distanced candlelit photo-shoots held outside their colleges highlighting the mental illnesses students reported having in the USI’s Student Mental Health Report of 2019. 

Given that one in four struggle with mental health, the aim of the campaign is to illustrate the scale and variety in different types of mental illness and “destigmatize” the negative connotations attached to them. 

Students who are facing problems can contact the Samaritans, their college counselling service or designated welfare officer.

Adam Balchin

Adam Balchin is a Staff Writer for Trinity News, and a Senior Fresh Law and Politics student.