College, Covid & Mental Health

By Steven Galvin - Last update

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This year, World Mental Health Day is on 10th October and continues to raise awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilize efforts in support of mental health. Ahead of the day, we want to take a look at College, Covid & Mental Health and how important it is that we do everything we can to support students’ mental health and and well-being in times of COVID-19.

Reports have shown that the number of third-level students registering with a mental health condition is rising. Last year, almost 12,000 students sought counselling in the academic year, up from about 6,000 students in 2010, according to data compiled by Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education Ireland [1].

This year, it is predicted that those numbers will rise again as students face the added pressure of living with the COVID-19 epidemic which has been spreading around the world since December 2019. 

Such levels of mental illness, anxiety and low well-being are worrying and the fact remains that counselling services in Irish third-level institutions cannot cope and that counselling services are understaffed and resources are underfunded. Now more than ever, it is imperative that the necessary and adequate provisions and support be put in place to ensure the availability and accessibility of proper counsel for all third-level students who need it.

College, Covid & Mental Health

The continuous spread of the COVID-19 epidemic is a major factor in third-level students’ mental health concerns. On top of this, high levels of coronavirus restrictions and isolation measures, plus limited access to colleges across the country is expected to have a serious negative influence on the mental health of college students and add to the psychological pressure, stresses and anxieties they are already facing.

We also have to take into account the fact that with the introduction of remote learning, some students will find it more difficult to learn from home for a variety of different reasons, from struggling to find appropriate environments to having the adequate technology with which to access classes. Students may also be feeling anxiety around finances and how the economic circumstances are effecting themselves and their families and that may extend into worries about future job opportunities in a potential economic downturn ahead. Plus there is the fact that students are missing out on the social aspects of college and the benefits that life on campus offers, such as new friends, communities, social life and support systems. 

It is essential that the proper research is undertaken in order to get a clear picture and get to grips with the mental health status of college students and the concerns they face during the epidemic. In this way, counselling will have a theoretical basis to help deal with college students experiencing mental health issues. It can also be used to both promote awareness of the issue and provide a basis for the implementation of the necessary governmental funding, support and policies that are needed to cope with the findings.

Experience of mental health difficulties while at third level can have a number of adverse effects on students’ lives. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists (UK)

“Early adult life is a crucial stage in the transition from adolescence to independence as an adult. Underachievement or failure at this stage can have long term effects on self esteem and the progress of someone’s life [2].

It is vital that students with mental health issues are supported appropriately. Earlier this year the Minister for Education announced a financial package of €5 million to support students’ well-being and mental health, which included a package to recruit additional student counsellors and assistant psychologists. While any and all investment is to be applauded, the reality is, it is not enough. It’s a start but more needs to be done.

It is clear that COVID-19 will have a detrimental impact on the well-being of third-level students. This needs to be monitored and evaluated during these times and the appropriate actions taken and necessary responses put in place to provide effective mental health services to third level students across the country.



Steven Galvin

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