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Youth Mental Health Pathfinder Project must be implemented without delay – Dolan and Dillon

26th January 2023 - Aisling Dolan and Alan Dillon, TD

Sufficient undergraduate and post graduate places must also be laid on to meet demand for mental health support professionals

The Youth Mental Health Pathfinder Project is just one tranche of a series of measures needed to deal with the exponential increase in mental health issues being experienced by Ireland’s young people, a Fine Gael Senator and Deputy have said.

Senator Aisling Dolan and Deputy Alan Dillon were speaking as the Mental Health Supports in Schools and Tertiary Education Report was launched. The report was produced by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science.

“The Youth Mental Health Pathfinder Project must be implemented without delay, and this is the report’s first recommendation,” Senator Dolan said.

“It will align key Government departments with responsibility for the health, wellbeing and education of our young people and will make navigating treatment and support mechanisms and programmes an easier process for parents and young people alike.

“A renewed spotlight has been shone younger people’s mental health this week, which makes the timing of this report altogether more pertinent. It follows on from the Committee’s previous report on ‘Bullying’. This is a national issue of concern, and this report makes a number of recommendations, including:

  • The Department of Education Pilot Programme of Counselling Supports for Primary Schools should include post-primary schools and a review of counsellor qualifications carried out, to include the additional training required for counselling children with special needs
  • School and Third Level Libraries should be designated as Places of Sanctuary, with the key aim of ensuring there is a School Library and a School Library in all Primary and Post Primary Schools by the end of 2024
  • An Expert Task Force on Professional Training for School Mental Health Supports should be established for further and higher education, to examine:
  • Demographic projections, so there are adequate undergraduate and post graduate places to meet the demand for mental health support professionals
  • The projected number of counsellors that will be needed for children with special educational needs who require therapeutic counsellors with additional training
  • The need to increase the number of students, across the range of relevant disciplines, from a more diverse range of backgrounds

“Student and parent associations spoke to the committee about the rise in anxiety and social difficulties. It is welcome to see the €5 million in government funding for the Counselling in Primary Schools initiative by Minister Norma Foley and there is a recommendation here that this is expanded to secondary schools too. Change have been made for more continuous assessment in some subjects at Leaving Certificate level and this needs to be broadened to more subject to reduce exam stress.”

Senator Aisling Dolan continued: “For our universities, there is a recommendation to recruit, train and retain adequate numbers of mental health professionals.  For young people in college, Minister Simon Harris has recently announced additional €5 million for student mental health supports at third level as well as an increase in the Student Assistanceship Fund. Togetherall is also a 24/7 online support with mental health professionals, which is now freely available to third level students in Ireland.

“I would like to thank all witnesses who presented including the HSE, Children’s Ombudsman, ISPCC, Barnardos, Jigsaw and many others.

“Having a positive experience in school and college, with strong supports to deal with issues gives children and young people confidence. A sense of belonging creates positive mental health. The goal of having in-school and college interventions is to stop problems before they escalate.”

Deputy Alan Dillon added: “We need to make a meaningful impact on youth mental health. I’ve asked Ministers about the roll-out of the Youth Mental Health Pathfinder project in the Dáil. This needs to happen urgently to give guidance to families and young people”

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