TDs plea to review third-level mental health provision
Minister Harris said he would examine the issue regarding Cavan and Monaghan Institutes.
The Minister for Education has been asked to extend a scheme additional mental health supports to include local third level students this upcoming academic year.
A financial package of €5 million for additional student counsellors and to recruit additional psychologists for institutes was unveiled by the Government earlier this year.
But the scheme does not include PLC's such as Cavan Institute and Monaghan Institute who look set to miss out on the funding.
The matter was raised in the Dáil with the Minister Simon Harris this week by local Fianna Fail TD's Brendan Smith and Niamh Smyth.
“Recent weeks has shown there is a wide understanding of the strain that Covid-19 has placed on the wellness and mental health of young people and society in general. That strain does not end when a student leaves second level. I ask the Minister to outline what much-needed additional supports will be provided and deployed for students in further and higher education for the coming year,” said Deputy Smith, who noted that the months of September and October often see an increase in referrals for mental health.
“It is probably the case that, this year, that increase will be exacerbated by Covid and the uncertainty it has created for all generations.”
Pointing to a report on mental health by the Union of Students in Ireland which found that a significant cohort of students suffer from depression and anxiety, Deputy Smith continued: “In the current circumstances, the normal safety nets which exist for students have come under strain. Students who are remote learning to a much greater extent will find it difficult to connect with or spend time with friends. The supports which are available on campuses may not be as obvious in these circumstances. A more pro-active approach will be needed to support those students. I ask the Minister to confirm that the supports will become more pro-active. We need to ensure that there is connectivity with the students who will be off campus.”
Supporting her colleague, Deputy Smyth noted with regard the financial package of €5 million for additional student counsellors and to recruit additional psychologists for institutes, that not every county has a third level institution. “The area of further education is equally deserving of investment to create a safe, respectful and supportive environment,” she stated.
Responding, Minister Harris said he would examine the issue regarding Cavan and Monaghan Institutes.
He said to Deputy Smyth: “The counties the Deputies represent, like my county, do not have a university but they do great work through further education. I will talk to SOLAS and revert to the Deputy on the matter.”
The Minister also stated that he looked forward to visiting Cavan and Monaghan with Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins, and seeing the two institutes in question.
He accepted the challenges faced by the sector through Covid restrictions.
“One cannot orientate someone into college via Zoom. Students need to be brought in to the college. To be fair, the institutions are positively discriminating, for want of a better phrase, in favour of first year students and often fourth or final year students and those who need to do practical classes. It appears a common sense approach is being taken. To become attached to an institution, students need to be able to visit it and get a feel for the place. This will be a very different college year and some of the normal college experiences the Deputies and I may have had will not be available this year because we have to keep staff, students and their communities safe first and foremost. A different experience should not mean a lesser one, however. That is the challenge we must continue to work with.”