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Student Survival Guide Part 2: Mental Health

Anne Sexton looks at the options available to third level students experiencing mental health difficulties

Anne Sexton, 20 Sep 2013

Ireland’s suicide and self-harming rates are alarming. The latest figures from the National Office for Suicide Prevention found that 495 people took their own lives in 2010, over 80 percent of whom were men. Add to that the fact that 12,010 incidents of self-harm were recorded in emergency departments last year and the scale of the problem becomes apparent.

Ireland’s high rates of suicides and self-harm are not helped by the failure of the government and HSE to deliver much-needed services. Earlier this year it was announced that €35 million had been budgeted to improve mental health services and employ an additional 477 professionals. As yet, no new staff have been appointed.

There are, thankfully, a number of excellent support and counselling services available. Finding a support group, such as those offered by the mental health service, GROW, can be a great help. GROW has a network of over 130 groups across Ireland with a number dedicated to young people. Members provide mutual support, learn about mental health and encourage each other to make healthy changes to their thinking, behaviour and relationships. GROW is confidential, anonymous and, perhaps most important of all, free as the cost of private counselling puts it beyond the reach of many students.

Money troubles can be a constant worry for students, and financial stress can negatively affect mental health. Help may be available for students in need. St. Vincent de Paul Society has an emergency fund for students in financial difficulty and offers immediate assistance of up to €150 for short-term financial difficulties. Your campus SVP office can offer advice on financial problems and they work closely with the Student Union Welfare Office, which can assist with longer-term financial problems.

LGBT students can face additional pressures. While society has become more accepting in recent years, homophobic and transphobic bullying is still pervasive.

“Roughly there is a 40 per cent higher risk of LGBT younger people self-harming than the general population,” explains Tony Cooney of Gay Switchboard Dublin. “Bullying can carry on from school, at college, when people go to work. It has gotten a lot better over the years but some people still have to hide who they are.”

GSD is staffed by highly trained volunteers and based at Outhouse, the LGBT community centre in Dublin. The name is historical, Tony explains, and GSD offers support services, confidential listening and information for LGBT people of all ages across Ireland, and even further afield.

“There is a general perception that gay people have a great life and they are always in the bars and in the clubs, but there is research to prove that depression, self-harming and suicide rates are higher amongst LGBT people.”

GSD has traditionally worked by phone but are currently looking at developing their services, both online and in person.

“We’re starting a weekly drop-in sexual health support on Saturday afternoon at Outhouse. It will initially be for gay men but we hope to expand. There will be information on sexual health, free condom packs, we will take referrals for counsellors and in the new year we’ll start a personal development course as well.”

Mental and sexual health can be often closely aligned. Self-medicating through alcohol or drugs can lower inhibitions and increase risk-taking behaviour. Should you have engaged in unprotected sex, get in touch with an STI testing centre. The Well Woman Centre and the Everyman Centre in Dublin both offer confidential testing. They also offer services for victims of sexual abuse, and Well Woman can help with issues such as crisis pregnancy and contraception.

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