The National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework has been launched by Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris, in response to the growing concern surrounding student mental health and suicide, especially in the wake of COVID-19  isolation and uncertainty.

According to the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science in Saturday’s press release, the Framework is Irelands’ first-ever national framework to address student wellbeing, mental health, and suicide prevention. 

The Framework was launched on World Mental Health Day and leverages a comprehensive financial package of €5 million. The funding comprises of the original €2 million funding that was allocated to higher education institutions for student mental health supports in last year’s budget for 2020, as well as an additional €3 million as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

As well as implementing the Framework, the €5 million funding will be used to:

  • Recruit additional Student Counsellors;
  • Recruit additional Assistant Psychologists;
  • Implement the Framework for Consent in HEIs; Safe, Respectful, Supportive and Positive: Ending Sexual Harassment in Irish Higher Education Institutions

The College Tribune reported in August that no documentary evidence had been provided by Higher Education Authority (HEA) or by the Department of Further Education to prove that the original €2 million in funding had actually been allocated to higher education institutions earlier this year as purported by the Department spokesperson. 

The additional funding comes at a crucial time where investment in student mental health supports in UCD is abating. The College Tribune heard minutes from the University Management Team (UMT) in February which stated that the UCD Counselling Service must partially out-source services to cope with demand and that it is not economically viable to hire more staff to cope with excess demand during peak months.

Commenting on the launch of the National Framework, Ruairí Power (UCDSU Welfare Officer) said, “The Students’ Union welcomes the launch of the Framework and commend the work of all those involved, particularly Dr. Tríona Byrne, Clinical Lead of the UCD Student Counselling Service for her involvement in the Connecting for Life working group” and the “UCD Psychology department” for their contributions to “development of the framework”.

He added that, “The need for a University-Wide Mental Health Oversight Taskforce is recognised in the framework and is a model which this year’s sabbatical team Students’ Union have advocated for since the start of our term.

Power further stated that, “to cope with additional demand for student mental health supports, the University must make a clear commitment to increasing the capacity of the Student Counselling service” and the UCDSU “are calling for a fully costed plan for the future of mental health support services and initiatives on campus to be developed, which will set out clear funding and recruitment targets for UCD”. 

Minister Harris also mentioned the launch of the 50808 anonymous text support service for campuses. “50808 is a free text service, providing everything from a calming chat to support for people going through mental health difficulties. Volunteers are available 24/7 for anonymous, supportive text conversations. Text your institution keyword to 50808.”

Iseult O’Callaghan – Reporter