SURVEY: Initial findings from a Kerry Mental Health Association survey of Leaving Certificate students confirm that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their mental health. Pictured are Elizabeth O’Connor (PRO Irish Second Level Students Union Kerry branch) and Leaving Cert student Julia Szarota. Photo: Domnick Walsh


Leaving Certificate students in Kerry have said that COVID-19 has had a negative impact on their mental health, while increased competition for third level places in 2021 is causing the most worry.

612 final year secondary school students in Kerry took part in an online survey to gauge how COVID-19, and the uncertainty surrounding the Leaving Cert exams, have affected their mental well-being.

Initial findings from the survey revealed that there are higher levels of stress, anxiety, loneliness, and disappointment in students since this pandemic began with students missing face-to-face contact and being in the presence of their friends.

More than half (53%) of the students said they would not know where to go if they, or someone they know, needed help from professional mental health services right away.
Kerry Mental Health Association received funding from Mental Health Ireland to carry out the research with the support of the Irish Second Level Students Union (ISSU) and Munster Technological University (MTU) over a seven-day period at the end of January.

“We believed it was necessary to ask students directly how they are feeling, what worries them the most and what they need to help them through the COVID-19 crisis,” General Manager of Kerry Mental Health Association, John Drummey, said. “The pandemic has impacted their mental health, with the Leaving Certificate and availability of third level places being the main concern of students. A concern for everyone is that over half the students don’t know where to go for professional help to deal with a mental health crisis.”

Some of the key findings

* 99% indicated that COVID-19 had created stress for them.
* 86% of the respondents felt that COVID-19 had worsened their mental health, with over one third, 37% reporting that it had worsened their mental health significantly.
* 90% of the respondents reported being very or extremely worried with regards the uncertainty of the Leaving Certificate taking place in July 2021, with over two thirds, 65% being extremely worried.
* 90% of students were worried about the increased competition for third level places in 2021.
* 73% of students said that when they are stressed, they feel their most important form of contact for their mental well-being is face-to-face contact.

The Class of 2021 in Kerry have mostly struggled to stay focused on their schoolwork despite the distractions of being confined to home during the lockdowns. They have found it challenging to maintain certain key self-care habits such as maintaining a routine, getting enough physical activity, or staying connected with others.

Kerry Mental Health Association has invited representatives from groups involved in promoting good mental health in Kerry to review the survey findings and recommend how best to address the issues that have been raised.

“This survey confirms that while school leadership is important for mental wellness, there is a need for a greater awareness of available mental health supports,” Mr Drummey said.

The second part of the Kerry Mental Health Association survey of Leaving Certs also examined the issue of bullying in secondary schools and examined what kind of role social media plays in students’ lives. The full survey will be published today (Friday).
If you or someone you know is experiencing a personal crisis, is unable to cope and needs support, text HELLO to 50808. You may also contact your GP and if someone’s life is in imminent risk, call 112 or 999 for emergency help.

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