Student depression is ‘reasoned response’ to lack of career options, conference told

Guidance counselling services must be restored to schools, say second-level teachers

Delegates at the annual convention of the ASTI wait for the afternon session to begin at White’s Hotel, Wexford. Photograph: Patrick Browne

Delegates at the annual convention of the ASTI wait for the afternon session to begin at White’s Hotel, Wexford. Photograph: Patrick Browne


Rising levels of depression among students is a “reasoned response” to dwindling career options, declining living standards and “a complete lack of hope”, a careers guidance counsellor has told delegates at the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland conference in Wexford.

There is mounting pressure on the Department of Education to restore full-time guidance counsellors to schools as a Millward Brown survey published yesterday showed that 30 per cent of post-primary schools have reduced their provision of career services to students and 45 per cent have reduced general counselling services.

Guidance counsellor Eimer O’Hehir said that while most media focus was on students who applied for college places through the CAO, there were a great many others did not want to go on to university and they were the ones who needed support the most.

“I have young men sitting in front of me who grew up in an era when there were plenty of options in construction, apprenticeships, the gardaí and the Army,” said Eimer O’Hehir. “All those avenues are closing off now.

“In the last three years, out of 300 students leaving our school, only eight have been able to secure employment and many more would have liked to. They’re our people, the ones careers guidance counsellors need to spend the most time with. We need to seek out options with them which will avoid them finishing school and immediately experiencing unemployment. That’s not good for anyone.”

O’Hehir described how much time was needed to guide these students through the often very complex access schemes and further education options available to them. “The resources are there, but without a professional to point them in the right direction, they are locked out.”

She spoke of the “disillusionment” many students felt at what lay ahead for them. “No one understands the stress of having nothing to go to after school,” she said.

John O’Donovan, chair of the Asti Principals’ Committee, said that rising levels of suicide among young people created ’trauma’ in schools and principals were worried about how best to protect the school community in the aftermath of these events.

“There’s always a fear that there will be knock-on effects for other students. The Minister has called for a school-wide response to mental health among young people but he needs to put training in place for staff if he wants them to be able to respond appropriately.”

He spoke of how there was support available in schools for students in trouble but that it was very difficult to get some students, especially male students, to come forward and look for help.

At the Teachers’ Union of Ireland conference in Galway, delegates were told of how marginalised children were suffering the worst effects of cuts to guidance counselling in schools.

“When we enter a class, we don’t know if there may be a student on the edge, a student looking for support. They need to know that schools care about them, not just the implementation of numeracy and literacy strategies, “ said delegate Anne Mannion.

She said guidance counsellors had been hung out to dry. “Most schools do not have the private resources to bring in extra guidance counsellors. It’s not just career advice and help with the CAO that is suffering. We are also concerned about self-harm, depression, bullying, and eating disorders, and we need resources in place to help those students.”

Delegate Caitriona McGuinness said teenage mental health was fragile. “Guidance and counselling needs all the support it can get,” she said.

The TUI will now seek urgent talks with the Department of Education to push for guidance and counselling to be staffed in an ex-quota manner.