Young people are under "enormous strain" because of the pandemic, an Oireachtas committee has heard, and urgent changes to support services are needed to avert a "surefire recipe for a mental health disaster".

Ian Power, CEO of, Ireland's youth information website, told the sub-committee on mental health that one in five of young people using a free texting service last year had considered taking their own lives.

The National Ambulance Service was mobilised in over 400 cases, because young people were in "real and active and imminent danger", he said.

The text support service had "33,000 support conversations" in 2020, the vast majority of them in the second half of the year.

For "the second time in a decade ... young people have been transformatively impacted by global circumstances far outside their control", Mr Power said.

He said many saw their parents lose their jobs in the financial crisis and are now dealing with their own crisis, leading to a cycle of "insecurity building on insecurity passing between generations".

Calling for additional funds, he warned: "This can't be business as usual."

Mr Power detailed how young people who have had to move back in with their parents as a result of the pandemic have faced "a lot of family conflict", including coercion and emotional abuse.

Rachel Traynor, manager of the National Youth Health Programme at National Youth Council of Ireland, recounted a litany of challenges young people are grappling with. These include increasing anxiety, social isolation and loneliness, the loss of social skills, negative impact of social media, a rise in addiction, and the concern over the impact of disruption to education.

She said the pandemic has pushed young people in poverty further onto the margins.

There has been a reduction of young people engaging with youth services, partly because they dislike engaging remotely, Ms Traynor said. Youth workers have difficulty maintaining work/life boundaries, and "feel like they are working all the time".

The committee also heard that a "transformative" and cost-effective programme to help young people tackle mental health issues has been held up for three years by an "inexplicable and inexcusable... administrative delay" in the Department of Public Expenditure.

Mr Power said he has received no reply to a letter sent to the Minister last year trying to establish what the hold up with the Pathfinder Programme is.

He also told the committee that young women are experiencing "higher rates of intensity" of distress during the pandemic, with young men "a little more relaxed" as we settled into restrictions.

However, he added that young men are increasingly vulnerable to eating disorders and body image issues.

He took issue with a report by the College of Psychiatrists of Ireland which said this week that cannabis use is the gravest threat to the mental health of young people.

While there is an increase in the use of cannabis among young people, Mr Power called for a "balanced and calm" conversation and warned against adopting an "alarmist perspective".

If you have been affected by the issues raised here, there are helplines available