Breaking down the stigma surrounding mental health

With one in 20 Irish students rating their mental health as poor or very poor, and an average of 131 students dying by suicide each year, it is now more important than ever to look at the mental health facilities that are available to young people.

Ease of access to mental health information and support has improved hugely in recent years, with counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy becoming available free of charge to those with medical cards for up to eight sessions. Free counselling services have been made accessible in most universities across the country, DCU included, and almost every bathroom door on campus is host to an advertisement for Niteline, a free and confidential listening service.

With all of this affordable and accessible mental health care, why is it that 55 per cent of students would still rather deal with their issues alone, and over one-third would try to ignore their problems all together?

This is because there is still a stigma attached to mental health problems. No one wants to be thought of as that guy with depression or that girl with anxiety disorder, and with the pressures and time constraints of university life, students don’t want to focus their time and energy on their mental health. The ‘ah sure, it’ll be grand’ mentality is still very prevalent in the attitudes of young people, with depressive episodes being written off as bad days and panic attacks being put down to having a nervous disposition.

Students need to know that university is a highly stressful and transitional period of life, and that there is absolutely no shame or stigma in needing a little extra help to get through those tougher and more problematic spans of life. Transitioning from secondary school to college where you know no one and have to adapt to brand new way of academic process can cause feelings of isolation, loneliness and fear, which can easily trigger underlying mental health problems.

College studies, relationships and finances are cited as some of the biggest stresses for students. Research from the Royal College of Surgeons shows that one in five young people are experiencing a mental disorder, and this combined with the stresses of college life can easily contribute to a worsening of symptoms.

People who have dealt with issues in the past may see those issues reappearing and may not know how to cope with their problems in this new phase of their life. It is important that powerful demonstrations like the Send Silence Packing display at Trinity College Dublin, where 131 empty backpacks were lain out on the lawn at the campus, each to represent one student who has been lost to suicide in the last year, keep happening.

These demonstrations remind students that stigma and silence are dangerous and damaging, and that no matter how deep your problem, talking to someone is always the best answer. Mental health is as precious and important as physical health, and shame should not be a barrier to students to access help when they need it.


Sarah Magliocco

Image Credit: Shutterstock

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