Anxiety ‘epidemic’ leaving guidance counsellors struggling to cope

Demand for support rising for self-harm and suicidal ideation in secondary schools

The institute found that more than two-thirds of students identified anxiety, self harm and suicidal ideation as the most common issues students were presenting with. Photograph: iStock

The institute found that more than two-thirds of students identified anxiety, self harm and suicidal ideation as the most common issues students were presenting with. Photograph: iStock

 

Guidance counsellors say they are struggling to cope with an “epidemic” of anxiety among secondary school pupils.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, president Beatrice Dooley said demand for support was on the rise for issues such as anxiety, self-harm or suicidal ideation.

However, she said guidance counsellors were under acute pressure and called for an immediate reversal of austerity-era cuts to the sector.

“On the ground our members are overstretched. I spoke this week to a colleague from a town where five schools are struggling to cope with a spate of copycat suicides,” Ms Dooley said.

“What is the solution? When a student takes their own life, the guidance counsellor is left to deal with the considerable cohort of students who present at our office in the succeeding few days.

“These students are now terrified as they too have experienced suicidal ideation and they are highly stressed that they could go take that final step. It is overwhelming.

Pictured at the annual conference of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors are Eithne Sproule, chair of the IGC conference organising committee; Minister for Education Joe McHugh; Nikki Bradley, campaigner and adventurer; Paul Hannigan, president LYIT; IGC president Beatrice Dooley; and Dr Petra Elftorp IGC researcher.
Pictured at the annual conference of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors are Eithne Sproule, chair of the IGC conference organising committee; Minister for Education Joe McHugh; Nikki Bradley, campaigner and adventurer; Paul Hannigan, president LYIT; IGC president Beatrice Dooley; and Dr Petra Elftorp IGC researcher.

Vulnerable students

She said guidance counsellors often feel torn between checking in with vulnerable students they have already referred out and screening new students who suddenly need urgent referrals.

“We need appropriate allocations to respond to critical incidents which are becoming all too common,” she said.

Its annual member survey of more than 500 guidance counsellors, the institute found that more than two-thirds identified anxiety, self harm and suicidal ideation as the most common issues students were presenting with.

Ms Dooley said the Institute has repeatedly called for an enhancement of the guidance allocation in its pre-budget submissions for the past two years.

This would include a return to allocations that were in placed prior to cuts in 2012, along with a reduced pupil-teacher ratio which would be ring-fenced exclusively for guidance counselling provision

She noted that its member survey showed that significant numbers of non-qualified guidance counsellors were delivering guidance in their school,

“An additional enhanced guidance allocation would equip our members to fully deliver on new educational and vocational initiatives,” she said.

Most of its members, she said were delivering services outside of their allocated hours.

If you are affected by any of the issues raised, contact the Samaritans at 116 123 or jo@samaritans.ie