Ireland’s first ever national framework to address student mental health and suicide prevention

Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, Simon Harris TD, has today (10th October 2020) launched a National Framework to address the issues of student mental health and suicide prevention.

Minister Harris said: “The number one health issue for young people in Ireland today remains concerns or worries around their mental health. These concerns have been compounded by the isolation and uncertainly brought forward by the COVID-19 pandemic”.

“Mental health has been defined by the World Health Organization as ‘a state of wellbeing in which the individual recognises their own abilities and is able to cope with normal daily stresses in life. This framework builds on this premise and encourages our HEIs to act in nine specific areas – to lead, collaborate, educate, engage, identify, support, respond, transition & improve.

“We know many students face mental health difficulties but we also know some students will face greater challenges than others including those in the LGBTQ+ community, international students, asylum seekers, mature students.

“I am particularly pleased to launch this new Framework on World Mental Health Day (October 10th). The theme this year is Mental Health for All – Greater Investment – Greater Access. Already this year we have progressed this theme through providing substantial additional supports to HEIs, but also through the extension of the keyword partnership with 50808 anonymous text support service to our campuses. 50808 is a free text service, providing everything from a calming chat to support for people going through a mental health difficulties. Volunteers are available 24/7 for anonymous, supportive text conversations. Text your institution keyword to 50808”.

The Framework has been developed as part of both the Department’s and the Higher Education Authority’s commitment to play its part within the wider context of the Department of Health’s Connecting for Life – Ireland’s National Strategy to Reduce Suicide 2015-2020.

This new National Framework was developed in collaboration with students, mental health and suicide prevention specialists, academics, researchers and institutional staff. The Framework delivers on a commitment to develop national guidelines for the higher education institutions (HEIs) in relation to suicide risk and critical incident response, thereby helping to address any gaps which might exist in the prevention of suicide in higher education.

The Framework recognises the many challenges students face, and sets out ways in which institutions can support and respond through working proactively to maximise mental health and wellbeing. The Framework leverages a comprehensive financial package of €5 million to support students’ wellbeing and mental health announced this year.

Commenting on the launch, Dr Alan Wall, Chief Executive Officer, HEA said: “I welcome this launch today, on World Mental Health Day. The HEA has worked with a broad range of stakeholders from students to specialists to bring this framework to fruition. I am particularly grateful to the USI, Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education in Ireland, the Irish Student Health Association and the National Office for Suicide Prevention for their help, but also to the SynthSCS Project Team in Athlone Institute of Technology for their dedication to this project”.

“This framework will provide an opportunity for HEIs to review and reflect on their current support for student mental health and actions for suicide prevention. It will help them identify areas where further improvements for student mental health are needed. This will need action by institutional leaders but will also need to be done in partnership with students and frontline student support staff to ensure that their voices are central to strategic planning and implementation”.

“The HEA will work with institutional leaders to implement this vision for student mental health and suicide prevention. The HEA will also hold institutions to account for the use of the additional resources, being provided by the Minister, to support and improve the student experience, student wellbeing and ultimately student progression, through higher education and on to fulfilling lives”.

Read the Framework here: