Students’ Mental Health Day is on Thursday, 22 April. In this year’s #HelpWorthy campaign, we tackle the obstacles for seeking help.
The goal of our annual campaign is to provoke conversations about the mental health of students and to invite everyone to support the cause of mental wellbeing. The background force behind the campaign is Opiskelijahyvinvointiverkosto (a network for students’ wellbeing), coordinated by Nyyti ry. The Research Foundation for Studies and Education, Otus, is a member of the network.
According to research, we should pay special attention to students’ mental health. The exceptional circumstances created by the COVID pandemic have changed the situation of students for the worse, and many students were in need of help already before the pandemic. In this blog, we are taking a look at research information on the changes brought on by the exceptional situation from the viewpoint of secondary school and university students.
Over a half of university students felt depressed or lonely last spring
An international survey directed at university students last spring showed that the exceptional circumstances tested the students’ wellbeing. In the survey, nearly every fifth student said that they had experienced symptoms of depression and anxiety most of the time or all the time. Over a half had felt depressed at least some of the time during the last week, and only a few said that they had been feeling mostly relaxed and calm.
The exceptional circumstances also intensified the experiences of loneliness. Around every fourth student said that they had felt lonely for most of the time. Many students had kept less contact with their loved ones, and the changes in contact with friends and other loved ones also affected the students’ mental health. Men, nonbinary persons, and people with long-term illnesses were at a greater risk than others – even before the pandemic, they’d had fewer social relationships than others, and under the exceptional circumstances, these became even fewer.
It should be noted, however, that most students kept actively in touch with their loved ones and participated in social activities. Regular contact with loved ones seemed to protect them from severe depression symptoms, in addition to loneliness. (Sarasjärvi & Vuolanto 2021)
The exceptional circumstances have burdened secondary school students
Most students in vocational schools and upper secondary schools have found studying under the exceptional circumstances as emotionally more burdening than under normal circumstances – and for many, problems related to exhaustion have accumulated, as shown by a recent report by the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre. Many secondary school students have also had difficulties in separating studying and free time, which the students have found stressful and burdening. (Goman et al. 2021.)
Upper secondary school and vocational school students have not always had sufficient support during distance learning, and there have been problems in providing student care (Goman et al. 2021.). The teaching and guidance personnel in secondary schools has expressed great concern about the students’ need for support.
The exceptional circumstances have also had a negative effect on the students’ sense of community and involvement. Especially first-year students and the students who were lonely already before the pandemic are at the greatest risk of being left outside the school community. (Owal Group Oy 2021.)
Students’ mental health problems and need for help on the rise already before the pandemic
Secondary school students have had an increasing number of mental health problems (School Health Promotion study 2017 & 2019). According to the School Health Promotion study by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare, 15% of students in vocational schools experienced depression symptoms, as did nearly every fifth first- and second-year student in upper secondary schools. A half of upper secondary school students and 38% of vocational school students had not received support or help from the adults at their school or from the school services in mood-related matters even if they needed it. Additionally, one-third of upper secondary school students are clearly burdened by their studies (Salmela-Aro & Hietajärvi 2019, Lukiolaisbarometri – Upper Secondary School Student Barometer 2019).
For most university students, mental health resources were at a moderate level before the pandemic, but for a long time, there has been a distinct, growing group of students whose mental ill-being has been at an alarming level. Many of them do not receive sufficient counselling help. (see The Student Barometer 2019 and The National Finnish Student Health and Wellbeing Survey 2016).
Students’ access to care must be facilitated – The Therapy Guarantee would improve care accessibility and equality
In view of research, we all are well aware that a student suffering from mental health problems is not alone. Anyone may need help for their mental health and coping problems at some point in their life, even if most students seem to be feeling reasonably good. Students’ access to treatment must be secured in all stages of life where mental health problems may appear.
The pandemic has been especially trying for students’ wellbeing. We should pay extra attention to those students who were suffering from mental health problems already before the exceptional circumstances caused by the pandemic. The changes in our everyday life may have far-reaching consequences. These exceptional circumstances can also be assumed to have worsened the situation of those students who would cope well under normal circumstances. The burdening factors observed last spring might have accumulated and become chronic, with loneliness increasing.
One significant method for safeguarding the accessibility of mental health services is the progress of the Therapy Guarantee initiative, Immediate Access to Therapy. The idea behind the Therapy Guarantee is to guarantee everyone fast access to psychotherapy or some other form of psychosocial treatment after their initial health clinic visit. The Therapy Guarantee could also improve treatment equality. Read more about Immediate Access to Therapy.
It is important that everyone who needs help can easily find it – and feel helpworthy. When you need support, there is help available in various forms. The most important thing is that you are not left alone with your worries. On Nyyti’s website, you can find different organizations providing help for students and young adults facing various life challenges, grouped by theme.
Kristiina Kemppainen, Development Manager, Research Foundation for Studies and Education Otus
Annu Komulainen, Influencing Expert, Nyyti ry
School Health Promotion study (2019 & 2017). https://thl.fi/fi/tutkimus-ja-kehittaminen/tutkimukset-ja-hankkeet/kouluterveyskysely/kouluterveyskyselyn-tulokset
The National Finnish Student Health and Wellbeing Survey (2016). https://1285112865.rsc.cdn77.org/app/uploads/2020/01/KOTT_2016-1.pdf
Salmela-Aro, Katariina & Lauri Hietajärvi (2019): Lukiolaisten hyvinvointi vaatii toimenpiteitä. https://www.otus.fi/wp/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Lukiolaisten-hyvinvointi-vaatii-toimeenpiteit%C3%A4-Salmela-Aro-Hietaj%C3%A4rvi-2019.pdf
Kiira Sarasjärvi & Pia Vuolanto (2021): Well-being in university students during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in Finland. https://zenodo.org/record/4620752#.YGGLoK8zaM8%20
Jani Goman, Mira Huusko, Kati Isoaho, Anu Lehikko, Jari Metsämuuronen, Niina Rumpu, Hannele Seppälä, Salla Venäläinen & Carola Åkerlund (2021): Poikkeuksellisten opetusjärjestelyjen vaikutukset tasa-arvon ja yhdenvertaisuuden toteutumiseen eri koulutusasteilla. – Arviointihankkeen osa III: Kansallisen arvioinnin yhteenveto ja suositukset. https://karvi.fi/publication/poikkeuksellisten-opetusjarjestelyjen-vaikutukset-tasa-arvon-ja-yhdenvertaisuuden-toteutumiseen-eri-koulutusasteilla-osa-iii-kansallisen-arvioinnin-yhteenveto-ja-suositukset/
Owal Group Oy (2021): Koronavirusepidemian vaikutukset toisen asteen koulutukseen. https://minedu.fi/-/selvitys-etaopiskelu-toisella-asteella-koettu-raskaana-koronan-aikana