Academic staff should receive mental health training – report

Increasing number of students with mental health difficulties has not been matched by more services

The report found that the increasing number of students with mental health difficulties and their needs had not been matched by more services.

The report found that the increasing number of students with mental health difficulties and their needs had not been matched by more services.

 

Obligatory training for academic staff and proper peer support should be put in place by all higher education institutions to help students with mental health difficulties, a new report recommends.

Mental Health: Matters Mapping Best Practices in Higher Education said action was needed to tackle the increasing number of students experiencing such issues.

It was published by Ahead, the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability, and the National Learning Network, a division of the Rehab Group, following new research.

Twenty-two higher education institutions (HEIs) took part in the study, which recommends a “whole of campus” strategic response to students with mental health difficulties.

There are 354,000 students in higher education in colleges in the Republic and Northern Ireland. The report said, however, that the increasing number of students with mental health difficulties and their needs had not been matched by more services.

One third of young people aged between 18 and 19 experience mental health difficulties. Less than one in four students who struggle with mental health problems seeks support, the report said.

Among its 12 recommendations are that assessment methods for students with mental health difficulties be reconsidered.

Students interviewed revealed they found oral presentations very challenging, causing intense anxiety, with one person describing themselves as a “nervous wreck” when carrying out such tasks.

Lack of assessment tools

One counsellor interviewed was “exasperated” that there was no choice of assessment tool available and that presentations were compulsory. She said this lack of option disadvantaged students with mental health difficulties in demonstrating that they had achieved the learning outcome.

The report also found varying responses from colleges to students who were not able to attend lectures and who seek support to catch up.

Unreliable access to online lecture notes, the need for additional time, and a lack of understanding of reasons for absenteeism among staff were key issues for students.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Minister for Education Richard Bruton said it was essential to listen to the experiences of students and hear their voices in order to improve how mental health difficulties in colleges were tackled.

Chief executive of the Rehab Group, Mo Flynn, said: “The concerns raised by students around assessment methods and absenteeism supports are very serious, but they do not require a major overhaul of the system. They can be easily changed and adapted to ensure that students struggling with mental health can reach their full potential.”

Executive director of Ahead, Ann Heelan, said people working in third level believed that good mental health was a key factor for students succeeding.

She said access to the right supports at the right time really helped students to cope.

“While the increasing number of students seeking help suggests there is less stigma round the issue, it also puts more pressure on stressed services.”