Yoga, mindfulness, Tai Chi and stress management seminars? When the parents of today’s third level students witness the array of health services now available to the offspring, it’s little wonder they might say: “That wasn’t there in my day.”
Yet, while the university student of 2020 is entering a very different campus to that of thirty years ago, it is still a life passage where a constant eye on personal health is every bit as important as lectures and exams. In a world of freedom and independence, many students do struggle to maintain healthy lifestyles while juggling tutorial timetables, project deadlines and the dreaded end of year exams.
Irish student populations continue to grow year-on-year, and so does the demand for student health services in third-level education.
There were 231,710 students in third-level education in Ireland in 2018, and numbers continue to rise. Student Health Matters was created by the Irish Student Health Association (ISHA), which represents professionals who provide health services for students in third-level college health centres throughout the country.
The ISHA is an organisation which serves as a forum in which members can discuss matters relevant to the provision, quality and effective management of student health care in Ireland.
Student health: There’s an app for that
Irish students will now be able to access safe, evidence-based and reliable health information instantly at the touch of a button.
Last September, the Irish Student Health Association (ISHA) launched a new ‘Student Health Matters’ App and Interactive eBook, providing students with easy, quick and convenient access to reliable and relevant health information, all in one place. The beginning of college often represents the exciting — but also challenging — beginning of adult life, and these new resources were developed to help students to better look after their health.
Mental health problems among students are increasingly common, and often they don’t know where to turn to for further information and support. Rather than Googling their health questions, which can be unreliable and confusing, students can now access trusted health information and links to many useful websites in seconds. The content, which will be regularly updated, is based on Irish healthcare information and services. It has been specially created by a team of health professionals at the Irish Student Health Association and Expert Self Care Ltd, a specialist mobile health information app developer.
The ISHA App and eBook provide:
- Healthy lifestyle advice — including education and health promotion advice on diet, nutrition, exercise, dangers of drugs, alcohol and smoking, and the importance of vaccination and screening.
- Health A-Z — links to the HSE database of 600 medical conditions and treatments.
- General health advice — how to spot and manage common physical and mental health problems.
- Key info — on sexual health, contraception, my options and consent
- Self-care with confidence — how to look after your health, respond to emergencies and self-care for minor illnesses.
- National and local support — useful info and links on where to get medical help and advice, all in one place.
- Local support — info, contact details and links to specific health and medical services at your college.
Sexual health service
Athlone IT plans to launch a major student sexual health service to meet the needs of the student population — 61% of whom are aged 18-24 and are classified as ‘high risk’ for sexually transmitted infections.
The innovative nurse-led service will be overseen by a consultant specialist in genitourinary medicine and use as a best practice model for community-based healthcare across the technological higher education and primary care sector.
Funded by the Sláintecare Integration Fund, this will reduce the significant medical, non-medical and economic costs associated with sexually transmitted infection and address the general upward trend in STI notifications, the greatest burden of which falls among those aged under 25 and men who have sex with men.
The pioneering sexual health service will be delivered directly to students in the context of the campus community, ensuring equitable access in familiar surroundings which promotes patient comfort and ultimately prevents and reduces the burden of sexually transmitted infections.
“We’re geographically disadvantaged in that we don’t have a hospital in Athlone and these kinds of specialised services are typically provided in a hospital setting,” said Laura Tully, Institute nurse and health centre co-ordinator. “The majority of our feeder counties are also without a comprehensive sexual health service so if students don’t have a service back home or at college, well then they don’t have a service.”
Conscious that many STIs don’t have symptoms, she set up an asymptomatic ‘mini-screening’ clinic service for Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea in 2015 to counteract rising incidences of sexually transmitted infections in Athlone. In line with national trends, the number of chlamydia cases detected soared.
“Working on the frontline, I saw that 90% of students being referred to specialist clinics with respect to their sexual health weren’t attending for a variety of reasons. Students have reported distance, travel time, the expense of travel, and timing of the clinics as impediments to attending and receiving treatment. This has given rise to a major public health concern as STIs are significant public health issue,” nurse Tully explained.
“Students were presenting inappropriately to the acute care system and local out of hours GPs were inundated, which is just not the right place or time, so this service on a community campus will undoubtedly result in a reduction on the burden on acute care services and ultimately reduce the future healthcare needs of the community.”The project will ensure that students can access comprehensive and age-appropriate sexual health education and /or information and will have access to appropriate prevention and promotion services which will ultimately encourage the development of a healthy sexuality throughout life; enhance people’s lives and relationships; reduce negative outcomes such as STI’s and crisis pregnancies and create an environment that supports sexual health and wellbeing.
Eating healthy amidst the trendy diet minefield
“Most of us want to clean up our diets and get healthier for the New Year, but since when did trying to eat a little healthier get so confusing?” asks Aoife Carr, member of the Healthy Trinity Healthy Eating Committee, a cross-college partnership of people who want to make it easy to be healthy in Trinity.
“As a nation, we seem to be pretty obsessed with nutrition and fitness at the moment. We’re constantly sold the idea of ‘paleo’, ‘vegan’ and ‘high protein’, by the media and food bloggers who argue out their (often extreme) views as the only way to be healthy. The health and fitness buzz that Ireland seems to currently be on isn’t helping us out in the stats department though — with the World Health Organisation telling us that our obesity levels are heading for crisis point by 2030.”
Is trying to eat a little better becoming just too hard, she asks, with the minefield of ever-changing information often ensuring that nutrition has become difficult to navigate.
“It can be easy to give up on trying to eat well if you feel like your diet isn’t ‘paleo’ enough or that you can’t afford the latest ‘super food’ on a student budget. While there is no ‘perfect’ diet for everyone — the principles of an amazing diet should not be complicated at all — just based around eating a portion-controlled and balanced diet of fresh, natural and unprocessed food.”
If you’re confused about healthy eating, it’s not surprising, according to Martina Mullin, Trinity health promotion officer.
“After years of being the great untouchable, fat is back and sugar is the new evil. On top of that, one-week paleo is all the rage, the next, you’re an outcast if you’re seen with a burger on meat-free Monday. So how do you eat healthy these days?
“We think college is the perfect time to embrace and learn about food. Let’s face it, you have to eat three to five times a day for the rest of your life, so you may as well learn how to enjoy eating healthy now, while you’re learning so much else.”
TOP TEN TIPS FOR STUDENTS TO BOOST HEALTH AND WELLBEING
1. Eat breakfast. That old cliche that it’s the most important meal of the day is still true.
2. Go easy on the pints. Student life is not all about partying. If you drink less, you’ll enjoy life more.
3. Dump the junk. Reaching for the crisps or cookies, when you’re cramming, will only increase the stress.
4. Drink more water. Staying hydrated helps concentration and makes you less likely to eat rubbish snacks.
5. Get friendly with fruit and veg. They’re healthy and cheap.
6. Hit the gym. Colleges have top-notch facilities and fitness classes — make the most of them.
7. Pedal power will keep you healthy and on time for lectures. With free bike schemes everywhere, there’s no excuse.
8. Play a sport. It’s social, it’s healthy, and it could open a door to a whole new world. What’s not to like?
9. Get out. Most colleges are blessed with grassy quads and wide-open spaces. Take a regular walk or amble: it’s good for mind and body.
10. Sleep, snooze, nap. The student lifestyle can be hectic, what with all that study and partying. Always grab an hour’s kip when you can — your body will thank you for it.