The rightful entitlement to democratic freedom of expression was reflected on the streets of Athlone on Wednesday afternoon when students from Athlone Institute of Technology marched, in peaceful protest mode, from the education establishment to Burgess Park in the centre of town, expressing their immense dissatisfaction at the lack of funding allocated to third level institution mental health counselling services.
Organised by the Students Union at the third level institution, the march, which coincided with world mental health day, aimed to promote awareness of the ‘I’M A PERSON, NOT A STATISTIC’ initiative, with students donning white clothing detailing facts pertaining to mental health issues.
Áine Daly, the vice-president for student welfare and accommodation for the AIT, spoke of the need to create and maintain awareness of mental health issues, exerting pressure on the Department of Education and the HSE to provide appropriate funding to an escalating crisis.
“Initially, we planned a demonstration to reflect the issue on world mental health day, but the idea flourished and culminated in a peaceful protest from the AIT into Burgess Park on Wednesday afternoon.
“Prior to the march, Ruairi McKiernan, the award winning speaker and founder of spunout.ie, which focuses on positive mental health, addressed students at the college and expressed his thoughts and fielded questions from concerned students on this increasingly problematic topic,” Aine commented.
The Union of Students of Ireland are calling for a €3m investment in mental health counselling services at third level institutions, a measure of which Aine is fully supportive.
“At Athlone Institute of Technology we are in a privileged position to have a great support service with three full time counsellors, under the expert guidance of Treasa Cox, available to meet with students and address any issues that they may have.
“Unfortunately, it is an increasingly worrying situation and I have noticed since our return to college term, there is a rise in the number of students using the facility,” Aine remarked.
Aine added that the peaceful protest had the full support of AIT President, Professor Ciarán Ó Catháin, whom she noted, plays a very pro-active role with regard to meeting the needs of the students.
“The mental health welfare of students continues to be of immense concern and the issue needs financial addressing immediately. Hopefully, the Government can promptly reflect and allocate the necessary funding which will enable a more efficient level of counselling support services at third level institutions,” Aine concluded.
In 2017, 14,000 students across the numerous education establishments accessed student counselling services, making third levels the largest provider of mental health services for young people in Ireland.