Minister John Moloney Launches Report on Occupational Therapy Support Service for Students at TCD

Posted on: 28 October 2009

The Minister for Equality, Disability and Mental Health, John Moloney, launched a five year report on the Unilink service at Trinity College Dublin this week (October, 27th).  Unilink Service provides a practical occupational therapy support service for students who may be experiencing mental health difficulties such as Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Schizophrenia, Asperger’s Syndrome or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).

The aim of the service is to enable students to develop practical self-management strategies that assist them in the completion of their college tasks and their integration into college life. Trinity is the first university within Ireland to establish such a practical occupational therapy programme.

The Unilink service was established in 2003 in response to a growing number of students accessing university with mental health difficulties.  In its first year 22 students experiencing mental issues were supported through the service and now, in its fifth year, the Unilink service is supporting over 107 students on campus.

Georgina Lewis, Sophie Dungan, Kieran Lewis, Claire Gleeson, Dr John Hegarty, Clodagh Nolan, Declan Treanor and Sarah Quinn.

Unilink which is funded through the European Social Fund for Students with Disability is a partnership between the academic Discipline of Occupational Therapy and the Disability Service at TCD.  This unique collaboration between an academic discipline and a college service has allowed for the growth of a flexible needs-based student support service.

Through the Unlink service, students are helped to develop a number of skills such as management and organisational skills through goal setting and timetabling; role-playing and social interaction; non-verbal communication skills; study techniques; breaking tasks down through activity analysis as well as applying coping strategies to their daily lives.

Commenting on the Unilink service report, its founder, Head of Occupational Therapy at TCD, Clodagh Nolan stated: “It shows evidence of a service that is committed to enabling students with mental health difficulties to achieve their valued goal of a university education.  By succeeding in managing their mental challenges and in achieving their educational qualifications the person can be confident of continuing on in life as a contributor to society and their community”.

“The focus of this occupational therapy programme is on the ‘here and now’ and on the ‘doing’ to enable students to manage their mental health difficulties and achieve their degree.  Often individuals with mental health problems have the capacity for intellectual engagement and achievement but lack the practical know how to put their capacity into practice”.

“The transition from secondary education to third level can be difficult for a lot of students. But it can be particularly difficult for those with a mental health problem, as often, not only is this their first time away from home but their first time managing their mental health for themselves.”

The AHEAD Survey on the Participation Rates of Students with Disabilities in Higher Education for the Academic Year 2008/2009 identified that there has been considerable progress made in the participation of students with disabilities in third level institutions, with the rate of participation rising from 1.1% to 3.8% of the total student population in the last ten years.  The number of students that have registered their disability within a third level institution now stands at 4,853.  Of these 378 (8%) have a mental health difficulty, 62 (1%) have Asperger’s Syndrome, 62 (1%) have ADHD or ADD.

Occupational Therapy lecturer, Clodagh Nolan maintains that the trend of students disclosing their mental health difficulties can also be seen within the Unilink service where numbers accessing the service have doubled year upon year with the largest increase being in those students who have identified themselves as having a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome or ADD.

Testimonials of Service Users

‘It was very useful. It has provided me with an organisational framework which is something that I am not good at…’

Male student with Asperger’s Syndrome

‘I am dropping you a line to let you know how I am getting on… I passed my exams; the Unilink staff had me very prepared and organized for them. I graduated with a 2nd class honours degree…Quite an achievement given all of the difficulties that I had to contend with, especially my organizational skills… I think my personal story is a testament to the necessity of the Unilink service in TCD…’

Male student with ADD

‘Yes to have to come here and say what I did …if I don’t say it out loud to someone that I did not do something I would keep deluding myself… so from that point of view it helps.’

Female students with a diagnosis of Depression