As Trinity climbs the global academic rankings again, students are asking for more help with their mental health

In January 2021, Jared Reilly asked his university for help.

“I was going through a really tough time,” says Reilly, who is back in the States for summer vacation.

When he missed an initial Zoom session with Trinity College Dublin (TCD) counseling services, he was told the next available appointment would not be for around three weeks.

“I was like, three weeks? What are you talking about? I’m going through a crisis right now and I’m an international student,” says Reilly, who studies philosophy, political science, economics and sociology.

He eventually got an initial assessment session, but was told he had to wait another month to start therapy, Reilly says.

Demand for TCD’s counseling services has increased significantly in the 2021-2022 academic year, with over 2,500 students using the services between July and March 23.

“This breaks all records for clients served in a full academic year,” say it college’s response to an access to information request filed by students.

In March 2022, the average wait time to receive an initial assessment was 10.8 business days, the response states. Some might wait less than a week, but others might end up waiting three to four weeks, he says.

The average wait time for a follow-up therapy session was 25.4 days, according to the figures.

Students like Reilly say they feel their efforts to voice their concerns and demand better access to mental health supports have been mostly ignored by university officials.

A TCD spokesperson said his average wait time to access follow-up therapy has decreased from the 2020-2021 academic year, when it was 41.8 days.

“Decreases in wait times have been greatly aided by offering more groups, workshops and online supports as well as supporting surge capacity at the peak time of the spring of this year,” they said.

A spokesperson for the Department of Further and Higher Education said it had awarded €521,503 in funding for TCD mental health supports over the past two years.

He called, they said, on all higher education institutions to prioritize improving mental health services through various means, including hiring more student advisers and assistant psychologists.

Under pressure

Trinity’s reputation as an elite university means many students feel intense pressure to excel, especially those from working-class backgrounds who feel like they don’t belong there, Reilly says.

“I have a few friends who dropped out of college for this reason because they felt out of place,” Reilly said on a Zoom call recently.

Two of his friends had told him they were hiding the fact that they were attending Trinity, he said. “If they tell their friends back home they’re going to Trinity, they’ll laugh at them.”

Trinity philosophy student Tertia Paterson says the university’s elite culture and reputation slips under some people’s skin, causing them to set unrealistic standards for themselves.

“They are easily disappointed if they don’t achieve perfect results,” said Paterson, who is currently back in the UK.

Paterson says the effect on mental health may be worse in more demanding classes.

A TCD spokesperson said students use the counseling service “roughly in proportion to the size of their faculty and course”.

For this reason, science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students; arts, humanities and social sciences; and medicine made up the largest share of service users, they said.

Following the February death of student Mark Melnychuk, Paterson organized a petition asking TCD to increase funding for its social services.

Many of her peers were traumatized and needed mental health support, she says. Just over 2,000 students had signed the petition as of June 14.

“On average, a medical student takes his own life every year,” says Paterson, who says that’s disproportionate to other courses.

(Emails sent by TCD to their peers show that at least three other medical students have died in recent years, one in 2019 and two in 2020. They do not mention how the students died.)

Paterson set up an email address on the petition, asking students to share their experiences trying to access support. Responses poured in, he said.

An email was from a student who said that during Christmas exams in 2021 he had lost two close family members in a short time. “One of those I lived with and witnessed has passed away,” the email said.

They had an emergency session in December, during which they were promised bereavement counseling from early January, he says. “It has now been almost three months since that meeting,” says the email sent at the end of February.

A TCD spokesperson said the International Accreditation of Counseling Services (IACS) guidelines “suggest a best practice ratio of counselors to enrolled students of 1 in 1,000.”

“Currently, the SCS [Trinity’s Student Counselling Service] doesn’t quite hit that benchmark, but it’s a goal for the future,” the spokesperson said.

Left unseen

Last Saturday, László Molnárfi, a philosophy, political science, economics and sociology student at TCD, sat outside Butlers Chocolate Café on Dawson Street, trying to keep sheets of paper from flying off the table with his cup of black tea.

The sheets were responses to Freedom of Information Act requests and the results of surveys of students’ experiences of accessing mental health services, commissioned and conducted by Students4Change.

Molnárfi is the chairman of the group, which is an independent alliance of Marxist and anarchist students fighting for reforms in various areas, including student access to housing, he says.

It shows survey responses, highlighting student dissatisfaction with college health and mental health services.

He sent them to college provost Linda Doyle on March 10, 2022, an email shows. In the email, Molnárfi requests Doyle’s “urgent assistance in providing resources to these valuable sources of student and staff support.”

Molnárfi says Doyle did not respond.

Paterson, who met with university officials, including the provost, in early March, said the meeting also made him feel invisible.

A TCD spokesman said he could not answer questions about Molnárfi and Paterson’s dating because the questions were “too vague”. “We have many meetings at Trinity, many emails are received and sent,” they said.

They said that this term, three lengthy meetings/focus groups were held with the School of Medicine, the College Health and Psychiatry Service, the Student Advisory Service, and student representatives from all years.

“Student mental health was fully discussed and a list of actions raised – these will be implemented in the coming months with review procedures in place,” the spokesperson said.

Paterson says a meeting she had with the head of TCD’s student council in late April proved more fruitful. They seemed to listen with empathy and recognized the problem, Paterson said.

“It seemed like she wanted to make some changes. She thought she had a kind of different structure,” says Paterson.

The welfare gap

On June 8, a press release was issued indicating that TCD was back in the top 100 world universities, as decided, at least, by the QS World University Rankings.

If student welfare mattered to those rankings, says Molnárfi, TCD might not do so well.

“How come a college that waits 40 days for its counseling service gets this ranking? How come a college that doesn’t have blended learning gets this ranking? How come a college whose academics work precariously has this ranking? says Molnarfi.

Molnárfi says most of his peers, especially at TCD medical school, are afraid to speak out, fearing that if they do, they won’t get a good referral from their school and ruin their prospects. careers.

Molnárfi sees a solution in empowering independent student unions to campaign for the rights of their peers, which he says the government hasn’t encouraged much either.

“It’s the power of the collective. If we unite, we are no longer afraid,” Molnárfi says smiling.

If you, or someone you know, might need help, the Samaritans suicide prevention hotline can be contacted on 116 123.

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