The topic of students’ mental health has come to the fore again after findings were published from a survey by Oxygen.ie, conducted with 1,000 students. The survey found that “93% of students feel they are missing out on the college life experience. In fact, 88% of students miss the social aspect of college and as a result it has affected 77% of students’ mental health.”

Socially distanced student counselling is a double edge sword, according to DCU Student’s Union VP for Welfare and Equality, Dean O’Reilly.

Virtual counselling sessions work for some and don’t work for others, the Welfare Officer said. “A lot of us have kind of adjusted to parts of our lives being online, so some people may find themselves accessing counselling virtually, online, even over the phone, a lot easier now than they would have a few months,” he said, “and it may just feel as natural as in person.”

“There’s barriers to in-person communication as well. Some people feel trapped, some people feel like it’s really intense, so there’s kind of positives and negatives on ether modality in there.”

O’Reilly also said that these various strategies are not uncommon when it comes to tackling mental health. “There needs to be increased services and there needs to be increased visibility and increased awareness’, and all that is true. But no one solution fixes it for everyone.”

“This is something the SU has looked at quite intensely,” O’Reilly said. “A lot of it comes down to looking at the resources that are available and just trying to do your best with them.”

O’Reilly highlighted the importance of checking in with your friends and also the benefit of getting involved with club and societal activities online. For example, the LGBTA Society host a coffee morning every Wednesday, and DCU Drama Society held a performance on YouTube on December 2 and 3.

“First-year students were quite creative in the way that they kept in touch with each other,” O’Reilly said. “There’s a ‘DCU Fresher’s Discord’ that has a number of different channels for different programmes.”

The survey also found that “59% of students suggesting that there should be an increased awareness of mental health support services from their colleges.” As well as this, “71% of students are living at home with 70% unable to avail of their on-campus college facilities.”

O’Reilly is currently organising a material with the counselling service to introduce counsellors to the student body. This is to make counselling feel relevant to students and “to break down that barrier between thinking you want to go access counselling and having a bit of familiarity with them that kind of pushes you over the edge to do that [seek counselling].”

Appointments to access counselling are available through the DCU Glasnevin campus or the DCU St. Patrick’s campus in Drumcondra. The appointments are organised through email, there is no phone number available on the website.

Counselling sessions are confidential, free and online to facilitate social distancing. The sessions are done via Zoom or Google Hangouts.

If a student cannot attend a session from their home, there is also a provision in place for them to attend a session on campus, where they will be in a room alone and will speak with the counsellor over Zoom. “If they don’t want a family member overhearing or whatever, they don’t need to be worried.”

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