A new partnership between the Psychological Counsellors in Higher Education Ireland (PCHEI) and Togetherall is to provide 24/7 mental health support to all publicly funded Irish higher education institutions in Ireland, it has been announced.
Togetherall is a digital mental health provider that provides round-the-clock access to an online community moderated by healthcare professionals who are trained to intervene or escalate whenever necessary.
The platform is designed to provide preventative and early intervention support that integrates with existing higher education mental health services, augmenting traditional services such as counselling with online platforms and tools.
This ground-breaking initiative is made possible by funding from the Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science (DFHERIS), that supports sector-wide projects that deliver on the National Student Mental Health and Suicide Prevention Framework, and matched funding from HSE Mental Health Operations.
The project, launching nationally on Monday 10 October, World Mental Health Day 2022, aligns with the new academic year and will be led and delivered through PCHEI.
Minister Simon Harris explained, “As students and staff returned back to college campuses last year, we made a commitment to provide the supports to assist them in whatever way we could. Today I am delighted to follow through on this commitment with funding for this vitally important partnership between PCHEI and Togetherall.
“Students endured an incredibly difficult two years during the pandemic, with the long-term impact on their mental health potentially significant. While we have invested heavily in enhancing student counselling services, and innovative mental health and wellbeing supports for students, there is always more we can do.
“This partnership we are announcing today will provide students with 24/7 access to mental health support, and I want to thank everyone who worked so hard to make this valuable initiative, which will have such a positive impact on people’s lives, a reality.”
Togetherall is able to reduce stigma and encourage sharing: 73% of its members shared a thought or feeling for the first time; 65% use it outside normal working hours, when traditional services are more limited; half of all members stated anonymity was the main reason for joining.
Henry Jones, CEO, Togetherall said, “We are delighted that Togetherall’s online peer support can now be made available through universities across Ireland. We’ve seen how offering a choice of services and easy-access tools can help to serve a wider range of needs and a larger proportion of students, every day we see the power of people helping each other by sharing their thoughts, feelings, stories and encouragement.”
Leading this initiative, chairperson of PCHEI and head of student counselling at TUS Treasa Fox spoke about findings from national and international research showing that higher education students have experienced a range of negative impacts from the Covid pandemic and associated restrictions, and that they have lived through a form of “fracture” in their social norms which is significant.
“In student counselling services, we’re hearing so many students talk about loneliness and isolation. The connections that Togetherall offer in their peer support communities have never been more needed. The fact that it’s anonymous and moderated by mental health professionals mean that it’s a very safe space to connect, to talk about what’s going on, to give and receive support,” she said.
The Togetherall initiative meets several key themes within the National Student Mental Health & Suicide Prevention Framework, on the 2nd year anniversary of its’ launch, including ‘Engage’, ‘Identify’, ‘Support’, ‘Transition’, and ‘Improve’.
The HSE, in line with National Mental Health policy, Sharing the Vision, is committed to investment in digital services that make it easier for people to access effective support options quickly.
“Research continues to show that young people engage well with digital mental health support. We know that early intervention can make a huge difference and availing of online supports with professional oversight can provide timely supports to young people on their terms and at no cost to them,” said Derek Chambers, HSE general manager, National Mental Health Operations.
The most important aspect of this partnership is that students get the choice of support they need when they need it.
Beth O’Reilly, president, Union of Students in Ireland (USI), added, “The rollout of Togetherall in our colleges and universities will provide another important tool for students, along with existing supports, such as Student Counselling Services. The fact that support is available on Togetherall at all times is a huge advantage to it for students who are struggling.”
This innovative partnership gives the student population in Ireland choice and flexibility. Existing students at participating institutions can register for support at Togetherall.com.