Half of students who sought counselling at NUI Galway were Arts students

students who sought counselling from the university’s student counselling service in the past year were from the Arts faculty.

The service’s annual report describes this statistic as “significant” and outlines that 34 per cent of the college’s 17, 542 student population is registered with the Arts faculty.

Thirteen per cent of students who attended the college’s counselling service were from the college of business, public policy and law and the college of science, while 12 per cent were medical, nursing and health science students. The lowest percentage who sought counselling were engineering and informatic students.

A total of 1,186 clients attended the service in 2014/2015 of which 42 per cent were male and 58 per cent female. There was an increase of two per cent in the ratio of male to female clients, which was a “very welcome development”, according to the Student Counselling Service’s annual report which is just published.

“The ratio attending counselling is now very close to the male/female ratio registered in NUI Galway (43 per cent male and 57 per cent female ). For some years the Student Counselling Service has made conscious efforts in our service promotion to use language and concepts that would make counselling help more acceptable to males. This is particularly important since the highest documented at risk group in our society are males between the ages of 20 to 24.”

The report outlines that 72 per cent of clients, according to the counsellors’ assessments, exhibited anxiety symptoms, 55 per cent had symptoms of depression while 30 per cent had academic difficulties. One in three were experiencing interpersonal relationship problems, 27 had self-esteem issues while 12 per cent were suffering a bereavement. (Counsellors can identify more than one issue so the total is in excess of 100 per cent. )

Meanwhile the primary issues indicated by clients were anxiety (36 per cent ), depression (21 per cent ), relationships (nine per cent ), academic (eight per cent ), self and identity (five per cent ), procrastination (two per cent ), and other issues (19 per cent ).

“Although clients selected the issue they deemed of greatest significance to them prior to talking with a counsellor during the drop-in process, the counsellor also identified other problems co-existing with the clients presenting issue.

“It is interesting to note that the clinical assessment picked up many other significant issues, among them a much higher rate of serious difficulties with academic work than initially disclosed although almost all client issues had some negative effect on academic performance.”

The report expressed concern about the large number of students presenting to the service with anxiety. This is impacting on their ability to study and succeed at college, it outlined.

A total of 74 students who accessed the university’s student counselling service in the past year were  classified as at mild, moderate or severe risk of suicide. Seventy-three per cent (54 students ) were deemed to be at mild risk while seven per cent (five students ) were considered to be at severe risk. Post therapy the latter figure had dropped to zero.

Drug and alcohol issues frequently emerged, alongside other issues, in counselling although only approximately five per cent of clients identified this as an issue at their initial contact with the service.

The average age of clients was 23 years with 68 per cent being in the 20-to-29 year age group. One in five was under 20 years of age while one per cent was more than 50 years.

The publication highlights the increase in the number of students accessing counselling. This figure rose from 511 in 2006 to 979 in 2012, 854 in 2013, 1,143 in 2014 and 1,186 so far in 2015. 

“It is clear that there is a steady upward trend apart from a slight dip in 2012 to 2013. This may reflect difficulties associated with a change in systems of recording, rather than indicative of a changing trend in demand. “

There has been a decrease in the number of sessions clients receive. The average number of sessions in 2006 was 4.6. It rose to 7.1 in 2011 and now stands at five.

“The reality is that the distribution of sessions is more like a bell shaped curve with some students coming for one session only and others attending more than the standard six sessions. It is clear from 2011 onwards that the trend has been for fewer sessions. There are different ways of interpreting this trend but the underlying situation is that there is less capacity available to meet student need. The number of counselling sessions available per 1,000 students has decreased since 2012. 

“What is becoming evident is that the number of students is increasing faster than the capacity of the service to offer provision. From 2012 the trend has been downwards. The service has not had an increase in counselling capacity since 2006/7. The capacity has been boosted by offering unpaid placements to graduates of counselling programmes. In recognition of this reality some additional administration was made available in 2011 which has been partially removed and it is anticipated will be completely removed in the near future. It is not clear how sustainable this will prove to be in the longer term as services in the community are now starting to compete to obtain the services of counselling interns.”

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