President Michael D Higgins has encouraged students to speak out about mental health issues and to be alert for signs that their friends might need professional support.
Mr Higgins said any society that neglected mental health “loses a rich resource” and that the quality of our citizenship was “tested by the extent and depth for the care of others”.
He was speaking at the opening of a €15 million student centre, the U, at Dublin City University on Thursday. Some €8 million for the centre was raised by students after they voted in March 2014 in favour of a levy to help fund it.
Mr Higgins, who attended with his wife Sabina, was unable to take part in the first official debate between presidential election candidates on Thursday because he had agreed to open the centre.
“In a student’s world there are particular stresses and worries associated with self-image, exams, awakening sexuality, shyness, bullying, family dysfunction, prevailing social and cultural attitudes about mental health,” he said, adding that any mix of these could overwhelm people.
He said DCU was “clearly very conscious of the increasing challenges of mental health issues among the student body”.
The student leadership and life skills centre will deliver programmes in resilience, mental fitness and mindfulness and will provide students with 24/7 access to qualified counsellors.
Care and patience
“Any society that neglects mental health loses a rich resource, we have to accept too that any form of mental illness is just that, an illness to be understood and addressed with care and patience,” Mr Higgins said.
“Everybody will encounter through the life-cycle experience of what may seem to be at that time impenetrable problems.
“ May I encourage students to speak openly about mental health issues among yourselves, and to be alert for signs that any of your friends or colleagues who might at a point of needing professional support or at the very least, someone to talk of their feelings to find an informed response of friendship and care, always delivered non-judgmentally.”
Mr Higgins also spoke of the value of the arts and of the contribution the new venue will make by hosting cultural events.
Saying that an innovative economy and a cohesive society were “two sides of the same coin”, Mr Higgins said it was his “fervent wish” that some of the students present would make their contribution to helping solve the two major challenges of our time – climate change and sustainable development.
Hundreds of people at the opening of the new centre gave the President a standing ovation following his speech and when he unveiled a plaque marking the centre’s opening opening.
DCU president Prof Brian MacCraith said the university was “very grateful” to Mr Higgins for accommodating the event in his busy schedule.