Youth mental health services ‘rotten from the inside’, students tell Dáil

Accessibility to services in rural areas is ‘incredibly difficult’, Dáil na nÓg hears

Youth mental health services are “rotten from the inside” while social media influencers have led to young people believing they must look “perfect”, young people have told the Dáil.

More than 160 young people convened in the Houses of the Oireachtas on Wednesday as part of Dáil na nÓg, Ireland’s National Youth Parliament, to debate issues of their choosing. Contributions spanned body image, school stress and mental health services.

Eric Ó’Connell, who lives with a disability, told the Dáil that young people have a lack of autonomy in decisions related to their care, with doctors believing they are “unable to advocate for themselves”.

“It is my personal belief that the current services available in relation to mental health for young people, especially young people who are going to be in these services possibly for the rest of their life, is rotten from the inside,” he said.


Mr O’Connell called for a change in attitude within the service and to “make accessing mental health services worth it for the young people involved”.

Cian Gleeson from Limerick said accessibility to mental health services in rural areas in particular is “incredibly difficult”.

“Long waiting lists and not being listened to have prevented young people from getting the support they need,” he said.

Some contributors who were “lucky enough” to access mental health services described six-month-long waiting lists, as well as having appointments scheduled during classes, further adding to school stress.

The debate also heard that young people receive “biased and invasive” care while there is a perception that young people are unable to “speak for themselves”.

The pressure Leaving Certificate students face in the points system, while alternative routes such as apprenticeships are rarely highlighted in schools, was also aired.

Doireann Walsh from Cork described points inflation as “ridiculous” saying: “It’s not right that someone who is literally only 16 should be worrying about the points that she needs to get a course.”

Meanwhile, the Dáil heard that those suffering from body image issues are only getting “younger and younger”, with one student saying her 10-year-old sister worries about how she looks which is “overwhelming” to see.

Peer pressure and the impact of social media influencers have led to young people feeling that they “have to be perfect”, which can lead to eating disorders, said Shriya Mishra from Dublin who called for age restrictions on social media platforms.

Separately, citing UN figures that almost 14,000 children in Gaza have been killed since October, Valentine Murphy from Limerick called on the Government to “do more” to protect peers in Gaza.

Ceann Comhairle Seán Ó Fearghaíl thanked Valentine for raising Gaza.

“There is no doubt that that travesty, that failure of politics, failure of the international community, failure of mankind where young people, women and elderly people and men are being slaughtered needlessly demonstrates a failure of humanity,” he said.

“It’s unusual to hear here such heartfelt, frank and compassionate views as has been expressed today.”