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University Times: Petition for Increased Welfare Funding Gathers Nearly 2,000 Names

A petition calling for Trinity to increase funding of welfare services has garnered nearly 2,000 signatures ahead of a protest on the issue today.

Started by a group of Trinity students on the day after the death of student Mark Melnychuk, the petition cited “recent events” as evidence of issues surrounding student supports in Trinity.

The petition calls for the increased funding to be used to tackle the “huge backlog of emails from students seeking counselling and waiting lists, some exceeding 4 months”.

“This is a funding problem”, the petition says. “No one would expect students to cope with physical pain for months without treatment, and the same should go for mental health.”

“We believe it is time for Trinity to finally recognise the shortcomings of their welfare services. While we recognise that funding is limited, mental health services should be made a priority – the effects of a poorly structured counselling service will be felt strongly at this time.”

In an email statement to The University Times, final-year philosophy student and an organiser of the petition Tertia Paterson called on College to be “proactive” in improving “the quality and availability of welfare support for students.”

Paterson said responses to the petition showed students were struggling to access counselling services. Some respondents, she said, “were promised to receive one-on-one counselling but were made to wait months before being told their only option was to attend group counselling sessions”.

“That students are expected to open up in front of a room of others who might be strangers or friends of friends about their mental health is very upsetting and discourages people.”

Patterson said the group would send the petition along with student stories to College.

Fringe lobby group Students4Change will today hold a protest to “demand better funding for Trinity counselling services”.

The College chaplaincy has opened a book of condolences, which students and staff can sign if they wish over the next week.

Trinity’s four chaplains wrote in an email this afternoon: “The sadness being felt by so many is palpable, and it is clear that many students beyond the School of Medicine are looking for ways to express grief and shock. Once again as a community we face the challenge to honour a life so sadly lost.”

“One small thing we can do, is offer our support as a community to Mark Melnychuk’s family, through messages written in a book of condolence. We will therefore open a book that will be on a table at the steps of the College Chapel in Front Square for one week, from Wednesday 2nd (today) to Wednesday 9th. Should you want to sign the book, it would a small, but helpful, sign of solidarity for Mark’s family as they walk these difficult days, months and years.”

In October of last year, The University Times reported that the counselling service had cleared its waiting list, after the Irish Times reported previously that the service had an average wait time of 40 days for follow-up appointments after their initial needs assessment.

Trish Murphy, the acting director of Trinity’s Student Counselling Services confirmed to The University Times at the time that in general students are not having to wait to receive an appointment with the counselling service.

Murphy said: “The College gave us a waiver on recruitment so we were able to fill our roles without going through the recruitment subcommittee, so they’ve been really good. We took on extra people then.”

“Then everybody switched their holidays”, she said. “So we worked very hard to get through the waitlist. It had been gradually going down, we were really thrilled to kind of get the end of it before we started [the new academic year].”

Additional state funding for third-level counselling services enabled Trinity to hire three additional counsellors in 2020 – one full time and two part-time – who were retained in 2021.

The counselling service also provides emergency appointments for students. Murphy stated: “We will always see someone in a crisis the same day or as near as possible.”

There are also a number of counsellors located in Trinity Hall who provide counselling appointments to the approximately 1,000 students who live there.

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