Universities in Ireland have spent more than €5 million providing mental health services for students during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Records released to the Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act show that the State’s eight universities spent € 5.1 million on counselling for students during the academic year that ran from last September to this summer.
Trinity College Dublin spent the highest amount (€1.99 million) on its student counselling services, with the total including staff pay and non-pay costs such as travel, equipment and recruitment.
The percentage of the Trinity student body seeking support from the counselling service last year was 11.4 per cent and the college had been “actively working” to minimise student waiting lists, which it said had been “persistently high” during the pandemic. It said “the intensity of need in the caseload has significantly increased during this time”.
The average wait time for an initial needs assessment appointment was 9.6 working days while the average wait time for a follow-up counselling appointment was 40 working days.
The college said it was committed to ensuring that counselling services were “readily and easily accessible by all students” and sessional counsellors were employed during peak periods to deal with lowering waiting lists.
University College Dublin’s expenditure on mental health supports last year came to €880,000, with more than 6 per cent of students (1,600) registering to speak to a counsellor. The average wait time for an appointment ranged from 10 to 14 working days at UCD.
Students who expressed a need to meet a counsellor sooner, or who met with a GP or a student adviser who felt they would benefit from accessing counselling as soon as possible, were given appointments in two to six working days, UCD said.
UCD Students’ Union president Ruairí Power said waiting time for counselling appointments “came down quite quickly” last year as the university changed its system for booking appointments. He said the demand for counselling at UCD has “generally increased year-on-year” and there was a “clear need to drive up services”.
University College Cork said € 704,000 was spent on mental health services, with some 3.66 per cent of the student population attending appointments with a wait of zero to 14 days. The college said there has been "no waiting list" throughout the academic year.
Maynooth University said the waiting time for the 4 per cent of students who attended counselling was "none", while its expenditure on the service was €264,000.
Dublin City University spent €255,000 on mental health services, which were accessed by 10.2 per cent of the student population. The average wait for an appointment was five working days, while students "at imminent risk" were seen within 24 working hours, Freedom of Information documents said.
NUI Galway spent €537,000 on counselling with an average wait time of 4.1 days for the 7.9 per cent of students who sought appointments. University of Limerick spent €406,000 in total and its wait time was nine working days.
The Technological University of Dublin’s expenditure came in at €86,462 and there was an average wait time of “less than one week” for the 4 per cent of its students who sought counselling.