Big increase in third-level students reporting mental health issues

Access and disability body attributes 46% rise in 2017 to better supports and less stigma

The number of students with disabilities in higher education has grown more than 12 times since  the 1993/1994 academic year. Photograph: iStock

The number of students with disabilities in higher education has grown more than 12 times since the 1993/1994 academic year. Photograph: iStock

 

There has a dramatic increase in the number of students registering at third level with mental health conditions.

Ahead, the Association for Higher Education Access and Disability, said a 46 per cent rise in the number of students with mental health conditions in the last academic year was most likely linked to improved supports and reduced stigma.

Ann Heelan, Ahead’s executive director, said the growth in the number of students was significant but no surprise.

“Supports are improving at second level, meaning more students are coming through and a positive change in public attitudes to mental health is resulting in students feeling more comfortable in disclosing to support services on campus,” she said.

While the increase in students with mental health conditions will pose challenges for many colleges, Ms Heelan said creating a “positive culture of disclosing mental health conditions” was very important.

Simple measures, she said, included talking openly about services available on campus during college orientation events.

Policies and procedures

“Clear policies and procedures for college staff on what to do when someone discloses to them can also prove very effective in ensuring that students get the support they need,” she said.

Its report on the numbers of students with disabilities in higher education also shows a sharp increase in the number of new students registering with Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder.

Official figures show an increase of 70 per cent in numbers with ADD/ADHD when compared to the previous academic year.

Overall, the number of students with disabilities in higher education has grown by more than 12 times since Ahead first began recording data in the 1993/1994 academic year.

Students with disabilities now represent 6 per cent of the total student population in higher education, with over 12,500 students registered with disability services in campuses across the country.