College Life

USI President Michael Kerrigan: Talk To Someone And Ask If They’re Okay

Students are experiencing depression, anxiety, loneliness, substance misuse, and suicidal behaviour. And when I say students, I mean many students – not just you, on your own, or a very select few. Although the stress of college and life might make it seem like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, there are options and supports available for students across colleges in Ireland who find they’re struggling with their mental health.

It is known that almost 75% of all mental disorders first emerge between the ages of 15 and 25, and USI’s research shows the demand and need exists to attend counselling services and other mental health services.

However, students can, and do, recover. Did you know that around 10,000 students are attending counselling at any given time, which means almost 8% of students on every campus are in counselling. That shows that you’re not even remotely alone, and that seeking help is perfectly okay. In fact, seeking help will make your college experience, and life, better.

To prove my point, figures from Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education Ireland (PCHEI) 2014-15 report outlines over 50% of students’ studies were negatively impacted by mental health difficulties. This report also shows 27% of students who used counselling services indicated counselling was a factor in staying in college, and 23% indicated counselling helped with their academic performance.

You shouldn’t feel ashamed or afraid for the way you’re feeling, and you certainly shouldn’t let that hold you back from seeking the help you need.

Here are just some ways you can get the support you need or how to support someone who needs you:

On campus supports

If you’re feeling depressed or anxious over a number of weeks and want to talk to someone as a peer, talk to your Student Union Welfare Officer. They will be able to suggest what’s available on campus in terms of support, and signpost you in the right direction.

In terms of counselling, if you don’t understand what’s happening to you or you feel overwhelmed by your problems, you should approach your college counselor. Many campuses offer free counselling.

Don’t be afraid to approach your tutors or lecturers to talk to them. They teach students every year, and might have experience in talking with students about their difficulties.

Talk to someone and ask if they’re okay

Talk to your friends about what you’re going through. You might be surprised to find out that many of them have also experienced mental health difficulties.

USI has developed a student support card, which has a list of free helplines such as the Samaritans, Aware and Pieta Hose that you can ring to talk to someone. It’s not the one-on-one face-to-face intervention that people need, but these services are a positive step for someone to use if they aren’t ready for face to face yet or can’t get it. It’s also a good card to have if you ask someone how they are, and they indicate they want to talk to a professional.

Getting involved

Getting involved with societies or the Students’ Union is a great way to meet people, and to get support. A lot of campuses run Mental Health Weeks, and even more have a mental health society with educational talks, positive wellbeing events and spaces for students to support each other.

There’s opportunities to do safeTALK (a half-day alertness training that prepares people to become a suicide-alert helper) if you wanted to do more as an individual on your campus to be equipped with the language and the capacity to sign post other students, be able to listen effectively, and talk to students who may be experiencing mental health difficulties.

College is often seen as the best time of your life. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be tough. What’s tough is the pressure put on students in college, but don’t let that define you. Talking is a sign of strength, and once you talk and seek help, you’ll feel a weight lifted from your shoulders and realise that your problems are being shared by students on your campus.

If students need support, please contact:

● Samaritans – 116 123
● Yourmentalhealthe.ie
● Aware – 1800 80 48 48
● Pieta House – 1800 247 247
● Walk In My Shoes – 01 249 33 33
● LGBT Helpline – 1890 929 539
● Bodywhys – 1890 200 444

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