With students being some of the most likely people to suffer from mental disorders, Gavin Tracey, investigates the mental health situation in UCD today.
Everyone who has attended a third level institution has heard the same mantra, that the years you spend in university will be “the best years of your life.” We are fed a certain image of university life, replete with parties, close friendships, and time spent “finding yourself.” Of course, what is never shown is the reality of student life for the vast majority of students: stress, anxiety, feelings of loneliness and alienation, as well as the overwhelming pressure one is under at all times to have a good time. For many students, they are living away from home for the first time in their life, and find themselves completely isolated and under pressure from week one to get working.
According to a study undertaken by the Royal College of Surgeons Ireland (RCSI), one in five young people in Ireland experience a mental disorder at any one time, and a shocking one in two people aged 19-24 will have experienced a mental disorder over the course of their life. The study also linked the high rate of substance abuse in this age bracket to mental disorders. In Ireland we have higher rates of mental disorders in this country than the UK, USA, and Germany. With this being such a prevalent issue, many students were dismayed at the postponing of Mental Health Week. Speaking to the University Observer, Welfare Officer Eoghan MacDomhnaill stated that this was simply because the grounds on which they were going to be held were damaged from Freshers’ Week.
“In Ireland we have higher rates of mental disorders in this country than the UK, USA, and Germany.”
MacDomhnaill does agree that there is a mental health crisis facing this country, “we’re seeing it ourselves with the people coming into the office.” He talks about the long waits for the campus counselling services, saying that “it’s as bad as last year, if not worse.” The issue of long waiting lists for the counselling service is a concern for many students, while many are not even aware that such a service is available to students. When asked about the lack of awareness and visibility of the services provided to students, MacDomhnaill admitted that this was an issue, saying “I think that the main problem that we have is that we have so much information that we need to get out about different things, we have the information, but just being able to give it in the right format is incredibly difficult.” Cliodhna O’Connor, from UCD’s Youth Mental Health Lab said that she believed that “people don’t necessarily realise the supports that are there, but also how understanding people are as well. I think that UCD is really well equipped with student advisors and counselling services.”
We asked her whether she thought that there is a mental health crisis facing Ireland. “The research that has been carried out by our lab would suggest yes, mental health is hugely prevalent” and she added that “it is the leading health problem in young people today.” The Youth Mental Health Lab (YMHL) carries out research to understand and address the problems of mental health in young people, and also aims to create a forum to allow young people to talk about such issues. She goes on to say that the stigma surrounding mental illness in Ireland is decreasing amongst young people, who are being made aware of it from a young age.
“It is no secret that sites such as facebook and Instagram encourage people to present an image of themselves that may not be entirely accurate.”
O’Connor also believes that social media has played a role in the mental health of our generation. It is no secret that sites such as facebook and Instagram encourage people to present an image of themselves that may not be entirely accurate. We display all of our best moments, a sort of digital trophy case, and measuring one’s life against an online trophy case of a friend can lead to a lot of problems. O’Connor writes in a blog post that “the illusion that everything is as it seems on social media can damage our self-esteem and general happiness.” These sites are designed in such a way that they can almost hijack our brain’s reward system and keep us scrolling for hours, not engaging with the content, leaving you “with feelings of envy, resentment, loneliness and sometimes depression.”
There is work left to be done, lots of it. Young people need to be given the tools at a young age to deal with the unique set of challenges that face them. Awareness is important, but what is needed above all else is the funding, on a national and university level, to offer the necessary supports to those who need it most.