The Student Counselling Services (SCS) waiting time following an initial consultation is 2 to 3 weeks. Students are allocated to a wait list if there are no available appointments within 2 weeks. Students can then wait up to 6 weeks for services, as per figures from the Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI).
Chuck Rashleigh, a psychologist in the service, said that “all students who are new to the service receive an initial consultation of 30 minutes to assess their support needs. Counselling is sometimes recommended from this consultation”, with pre-booked consultations being available within 2 weeks, and a daily drop-in consultation service on a first-come first-served basis, running between 1-2pm.
From mid-October, the students who are deemed to be suitable for counselling are added to a waiting list, with 48 students currently on that list. The Students’ Union Welfare Officer, Damien McClean, stated that “whoever needs to be seen will be seen first”, and that “there are emergency appointments and there are procedures for that”. Emergency appointments are available daily, from 3-4pm.
Rashleigh of the counselling service said: “We are doing our best to respond to the needs of students on the waiting list. This includes regular emails and phone calls to students with offers of cancelled or rescheduled appointments, which can become available at short notice.” Rashleigh noted that “a student’s availability to accept offers of appointments can extend this wait time in some cases”. There is an online service called “Silvercloud”, “with programmes for anxiety, depression, stress management, and body image issues”. Rashleigh also said that there are “weekly drop-in workshops and groups. Information on all these supports can be found on the SCS website”.
Speaking in a press release following the budget, Michael Kerrigan, President of the Union of Students’ in Ireland (USI), said that “waiting lists for third-level counselling services are currently seeing students waiting for up to six weeks to see a counsellor”. Kerrigan spoke of the Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education Ireland (PCHEI) 2014 to 2015 report, and noted that “27% of students who used counselling services indicated counselling was a factor in their retention, and 23% indicated counselling helped with their academic performance”. The USI 2016 survey showed that 61.6% of students are experience “burnout” while attending third level education, and that 27.6% in college have dropped out due to stress.
Prior to the budget release, the USI had campaigned for the government to invest €3 million per year into third-level counselling services, though this was not allocated. Following the release of Budget 2018, according to the College View newspaper, Podge Henry, Vice President of Welfare and Equality at DCU’s Students’ Union, said that waiting time for one-to-one consultations can take up to 6 weeks at the university. UCD’s Welfare Officer, Eoghan MacDomhnaill said that “it’s as bad as last year, if not worse” when discussing wait times for counselling on campus to The University Observer, and noted that “we’re seeing this ourselves with the people coming into the office”.
McClean said that in his opinion, Trinity’s counselling service is “under-resourced” and “understaffed” and said that “these are students in need”. McClean said that he and the counseling service “work very closely together” and that he is “very confident in the counseling service self review”. McClean said that “there are so many supports out there” in College and that in Trinity, “mental health is being seen as valid as a physical injury” and is “respected”.
Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education said that there has been a 40% increase in demand for counselling over the past decade, with Dr Declan Ahern, head of counselling at the University of Limerick (UL) saying that there are approximately 10,000 students attending counselling at any one time in Ireland, representing 6-8% of students in each university. In 2015, the wait list in UL for one-to-one counselling reached over 40 students.
On November 1, a new campaign in Trinity called “Lean on Us”was launched in order to raise awareness and reduce stigmas surrounding student support services on campus. The campaign, lead by the counselling service, aims to promote college services such as the Disability Service, Careers Advisory Service, Counselling Service and the Global Relations Service. Students were also chosen as ambassadors for the campaign, as well as an online video of students, staff and alumni promoting college services. Speaking at the launch, Provost Patrick Prendergast said: “It still takes courage to speak out and admit that one has suffered. I hope that soon we get to a place where this is seen as normal. The ‘Lean on Us’ campaign depends on the courage and willingness to share of alumni and student ambassadors.”