AHEAD: Association for Higher Education Access & Disability
Creating inclusive environments in education & employment for people with disabilities.


Mental Health Matters - New Research Launched


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Mental Health Matters - Research Overview

Dr. Esther Murphy, Principal Investigator 

Disability Service Supports for students with mental health difficulties in higher education

Declan Treanor, Director, Disability Service, Trinity College Dublin

Student Counselling Services: Provision for Students with Mental Health Difficulties

Treasa Fox,  Irish Association of University and College Counsellors

Student Central: The Impact of Psychology-Led Supports and Evidence Based Interventions in a Third Level Institution

Rose Ryan, Director of Access Office Maynooth University

Suzanne McCarthy, Educational Psychologist

  • 41% increase in students seeking counselling
  • Staff cutbacks result in six month waiting lists to see counsellor in third level
  • Full and part-time College staff should have mandatory mental health awareness training
  • College assessment methods need to become more flexible and open

November 1st, 2016: New research by AHEAD, the  Association for Higher Education Access and Disability and the National Learning Network (NLN), a division of the Rehab Group, has identified 12 recommendations to help overcome the serious issues faced by students with mental health difficulties in third level education.

The ‘Mental Health Matters – Mapping Best Practices in Higher Education’ report was carried out to give a voice to students with mental health difficulties and to hear the experiences of professional staff in third level education. Of the 28 Higher Education Institutes (HEI), 22 took part in the report.

Colleges are seeing a 41% increase in the number of students seeking counselling, while staff cutbacks during the austerity years is resulting in students waiting six months to see a counsellor. This is a silent crisis that needs to be addressed. Students with mental health difficulties need to be given the support they deserve.

Two of the key recommendations in this new report to help students include: 

Assessment methods

Students with mental health difficulties revealed that presentations are very challenging, causing anxiety and resulting in students describing themselves as a ‘nervous wreck’.  The openness of trying out new ways to assess students, such as one-on-one presentations or  recording themselves at home, has been welcomed by students. Students agreed these assessment methods are less stressful and help them to fully demonstrate their knowledge.

This report recommends that all courses use assessment methods that give students a choice in how they are examined. Flexibility is not new, but it is also not widespread.  Openness to flexible assessment methods can make the difference between a student reaching their potential or failing and dropping out.

Although colleges provide disability awareness training for academic staff, it is on a voluntary basis. This report recommends that mental health awareness training should be made mandatory for full and part-time staff.

Absenteeism support

Time out of college can be a regular feature for students struggling with mental health difficulties. The report found that colleges have a range of responses when students who were not able to attend lectures seek support to catch up. Unreliable access to online lecture notes, the need for additional time, and a lack of understanding of reasons for absenteeism among staff are key issues for students.

One student felt that audio versions of lecture notes would have been beneficial, but that there is a lack of understanding that students with mental health difficulties need this kind of support. A review of the current teaching and learning practices should take place to ensure that institutions are thinking creatively about the learning environment and what will work for individual students.

Speaking about the report, Mo Flynn, Chief Executive of Rehab Group said: “This wide ranging report lays bare the difficult challenges that people with mental health difficulties face in third level education. The concerns raised by students around assessment methods and absenteeism supports are very serious, but they do not require a major overhaul of the system. They can be easily changed and adapted to ensure that students struggling with mental health can reach their full potential.” 

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