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The Student Union of the University of Helsinki turned 150 years old this year. The Student Union has now reached a mature age, but it also has an eventful youth behind it. As early as the 19th century, students were involved in building this country, creating its standard language, flag, identity and the Maamme national anthem. Students fought on both sides in the Civil War and did their part in establishing the country’s political and economic system after the war. In the 1950s, students started to become worried about the situation in developing countries and were involved in bringing development cooperation to Finland.

Student radicalism flourished when the Student Union turned 100 years old. The Old Student House was occupied because the Student Union was considered to have become disconnected from students’ everyday life. The Student Union was considered an important but remote community. Unlike 50 years ago, during this Anniversary year the Student Union has emphasised the need for strengthening communality and the need for equality. Different ways of keeping all students involved have been considered.

The Student Union is like a small municipality within the city. It gathers students from all around the country and the world together and provides them with a community, a safety net and fun activities. Communality can also be thought of on a larger scale, as part of the urban community and Finland: social exclusion and deprivation are challenges faced by growing cities. Mental health problems among young people have increased, loneliness has become more common and the segregation of residential areas has begun. There is a pronounced need for communality and, for this reason, it is important that students’ communality in our city expands outside our own community, too.

The new era does not call for us to isolate ourselves within our communities – we need to do things together and take responsibility for problems that are not in our own backyard or just around the corner, too. This requires us to redefine neighbourliness and what is considered common. Communality must be viewed on a larger scale than as just a feature of our own community. The new era must be seen as readiness to take action against injustice in society and as people power used to defend education and human dignity.

The Student Union must continue to boldly be radical and ready to both cause disapproval and shake up existing power structures if they are in the way of progress. It must have the courage to act for those in the weakest position in society and those whose lives are characterised by a lack of prospects and deprivation. The Student Union must participate in common activities aimed at building a better city for all and dare to have grand visions, demand the impossible and realise it.

When I imagine the next 150 years, I see a Student Union that uses its communality as a resource for promoting equality, sustainable development and education. I see a Student Union that actively defends values that are important to students in the city and in society. I see a Student Union changing the world.

Suvi Pulkkinen

The writer is the Chair of the Student Union of the University of Helsinki. She has studied sociology and politics of education at the University of Helsinki and was active in various organisations and in the Student Union during her studies.

Kuvassa Noora Paakki nojaa kaiteeseen vanhan talon portaikossa

I am sure you remember the feelings you experienced when receiving the following message: ‘Congratulations, you have been accepted to study!’ The emotions may have been thrillingly exciting, with maybe even some fear mixed in – but ultimately surely excited, happy and satisfied. After your studies began, however, the realities of how challenging and straining studying can be entered the picture. The extreme stress of studying cannot be denied, and life management skills take a large role in all the confusion.

Both external and internal expectations often grow during studies, and your ability to tolerate and manage stress gets put to the test. The amount of brainwork you must do also increases and your life management skills face a real test. Not to mention if you are also working simultaneously with studying: over half of the students in universities and universities of applied sciences work while studying. In addition to these issues, other factors related to your situation in life, conditions and individual characteristics influence the strain you feel during studies. All in all, this mixture forms a real challenge to holistic wellbeing.

When thinking about these challenges that people face during their studies, we should think about ways to alleviate the strain and to make a challenging period in life slightly easier. Does the old saying ‘work hard, play hard’ still ring true? I believe it would be more fitting to say that working hard requires you to take a harder look at your wellbeing.

There are many ways to look after your own wellbeing and coping. The old saying I mentioned is often linked to substance use as a means of relaxation. It is an undisputed fact that parties and substance use are a part of student culture, but substance use among students today has decreased, whereas the number of non-drinking students has doubled since 2000. Substance use has not been observed to alleviate strain in the long term, only occasionally and in the short term. For this reason, you should turn your attention to other methods of stress management. 

Instead of short-term methods to alleviate stress, the methods proven to work the best are those that you can use in everyday life – during the day, in the evening or during weekends. In addition to this, it has been shown that leisure-time activities as such do not necessarily help you recover. It is the related psychological connections, such as relaxation, self-fulfilment, feeling of control and taking your mind off everyday life and work, that increase coping.

Everyone should think about and recognise the methods to alleviate strain and stress that work for themselves and give them back the resources they have spent while studying. Could some of the following methods to escape the routines work for you?

  • Physical activity or gaming
  • Enjoying nature
  • Crafts
  • Cultural or art hobby, such as movies
  • Time spent together with friends, family or pets
  • Writing or photography
  • Doing sudokus or crossword puzzles
  • Necessary, aimless lounging around or being idle

Please remember that hard work requires you to take a harder look at your own wellbeing. For this reason, you should focus on the things that help you recover and provide you with genuine relaxation during all the confusion of everyday life.


Writer:
Noora Paakki
Programme planner, Nyyti ry
‘KUPLA – Students reforming substance use culture’ project
 
 
Sources:

Student health survey 2016. http://www.yths.fi/filebank/4310-KOTT_englanti_2016.pdf
 
Sonnentag & Fritz 2007. The Recovery Experience Questionnaire: Development and validation of a measure for assessing recuperation and unwinding from work. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 12, 204–221.
 
Statistics Finland: Education statistics – Employment of students 2015. http://stat.fi/til/opty/2015/opty_2015_2017-03-17_en.pdf

A knocked-over glass of juice is what ended up being the last straw for me. Like any day, I was grabbing food at the Unicafe in Porthania when I accidentally knocked over my glass. Looking at my lunch soaked in juice, I burst into a hysteric cry.

There had been a serious crisis in the organisation I was chairperson for at the time. The situation also drew the media’s attention and answering their questions was surprisingly exhausting. I was very worried whether anyone would ever dare to attend our events again or become an active in our organisation.

My friend whom I had come to have lunch with escorted me to a nearby table and sat me down. The Unicafe cashier took away my ruined meal and brought me a new one - and a pile of tissues. This complete stranger and my friend both asked, in the sincerest of ways, two things: “Is everything okay and is there something I can do?”

HYY’s #everythingokay campaign aims to reduce the stigma around mental health issues and the fear for seeking help. Up to 30% of university students suffer from mental health issues. We all have a mental health and it is completely normal that at times you feel better and at times worse, that’s something I want to emphasize. The most common diagnosis for students is depression but in addition to that we all might experience milder symptoms at some point: sleeplessness, anxiety, isolation, stress and problems with self-confidence. Although these are considered milder symptoms, they can, just as much, cause issues on your mental health and thus are just as much a reason to seek help than other symptoms or causes.

The Finnish Association for Mental Health offers trainings for mental health first aid. HYY organised such training last spring where the focus is on offering the participants readiness to help out and help people seek professional help. It was a weekend-long training held by Päivi Kohta who works as a specialist for Nyyti ry. We gained a lot of information on different mental health issues during the course. What I especially took away from the training was how important it is to talk about mental health issues out loud. It’s important for both helping out the person suffering from them but also to reduce the harmful stigma around these issues.

It is typical that preliminary symptoms are overlooked or not recognized. Early intervention is an important message from other people that no one has to survive alone and that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Early intervention can also reduce the time it takes to get help and eventually recover.

The book Haavoittuva mieli – tunnista ja tue translated from the Mental Health First Aid Notebook describes the steps of mental health first aid, that can help with supporting someone:

  1. Approach, assess and help with the crisis situation, ask if everything is okay
  2. Listen with an open mind and without judgement
  3. Support and offer information and knowledge
  4. Encourage the person to take care of themself
  5. Encourage them, if necessary, to seek professional help

When helping others, you have to also take care of yourself since helping others should never weigh too heavy on the helper. It should also be noted that there is no real or absolute linear structure to helping out. There are no exact “right” ways to do it or “right” things to say. An important thing to realize is also that asking a person about how they are feeling will not deteriorate their condition. Talking about suicide will not encourage a person to attempt it - it’s the other way around. By asking, you showcase sincere concern and caring for the person.

I still can’t remember whether I paid for that lunch but I do remember how I was treated. That same day I sought professional help. I first got a phone-appointment and then a crisis appointment to see a psychologist. Being able to talk with a professional helped me deal with what had happened and how I was feeling.

Organisation activities can, at its best, increase wellbeing. Student organisations and nations offer a place where students can do meaningful things for their community, improve their own skills and create close friendships. On the other hand, at its worst, organisation activities can cause exhaustion too. You, me, any one of us can ask our friend “is everything okay?” or “I’ve noticed that everything is not okay, is there something I could do?”.

Laura Wathén
HYY Board Member 2018, Chair of the Board 2019

Laura Wathén

Source: Kitchener, B., Jorm, A., Kelly, C., Lassander, M., & Karila-Hietala, R. (2015) Haavoittuva mieli – tunnista ja tue. Mielenterveyden ensiapu 2. Suomen Mielenterveysseura.

HYYn viestintäharjoittelija Saana Lehtinen ison alppiruusupensaan edessä

Only 66% of higher education students consider their mental wellbeing to be good, reveals the Student health study conducted by the Finnish Student Health Service (FSHS) in 2016. According to the same study, around one third of students have psychological difficulties.

The increase in mental health problems experienced by students is alarming. When you consider all the factors related to students’ situations in life that cause them strain, however, it does not seem that surprising that some students’ mental health is affected. Constantly worrying about study progress and whether you have enough money, for instance, is exhausting. Many students work part time along their studies, which adds more stress to everyday life. Weekdays are spent in lecture halls and exams, weekends at work. When many permanently employed people are enjoying their Christmas vacation, students are often working or sending applications for summer jobs, with the application process beginning earlier each year. The boundaries between leisure, work and studying are blurred. Sometimes, everyday life becomes so exhausting to students that they need a vacation from it.

I became exhausted after a couple years of studies in my dream field. Before this, I had moved hundreds of kilometres away from my home city, Helsinki, to pursue my previous student place, become disappointed with my studies, read for entrance exams once again, received a new student place and moved back to Helsinki. I was grateful and happy of my new student place. I wanted to make the most of student life and got involved in subject organisation activities in addition to studying intensively. Besides the studies and organisational activities, I had a physically demanding part-time job where the days occasionally stretched out to ten hours. Other sources of stress were constantly present in my everyday life, too.

In retrospect, I can see the reasons for my burnout clearly, but in the initial rush my new student place had given me, I could only wonder how I could be so anxious with everything I had achieved. I slept less and worse all the time and ate irregularly. One morning, I was so tired that I did not remember how to use a door handle and when I was introducing myself to a new acquaintance, I panicked for a moment as I could not remember my own first name for a few seconds.

When everyday life is causing you anxiety, you should take action early enough. You should not hesitate to use the mental health services of the FSHS. They exist for you.

Students have the possibility and permission to take sick leave just like anyone else. If you do not have enough resources for working and studying, you can apply for Kela’s sickness allowance. Student aid is not paid while you receive sickness allowance, and you need a medical certificate to receive the allowance. The amount of the allowance is based either on your taxable earnings or the study grant and is always at least as much as the study grant. To avoid an interruption in the payment of benefits while you are waiting for a decision on the sickness allowance, you can continue to receive student aid until the decision has been made. After you have been granted the sickness allowance, Kela will automatically stop paying you student aid. When your sick leave ends, you must apply to have your student aid reinstated yourself.

You do not need to stop studying entirely when you are receiving sickness allowance – higher education students may study a maximum of three credits’ worth per month.

In situations related to the lack of study ability, students may call the FSHS’ number for treatment need assessment – you will receive further instructions on reserving a time there. The need for a sick leave is assessed at an appointment with a general practitioner. If needed, the general practitioner will refer the student to a psychiatrist who assesses the need for a longer sick leave related to mental health reasons. If the student has a job and their incapacity for work is related to a part-time job done alongside studies, for instance, they can also contact occupational healthcare on matters related to sick leaves.

Studying is demanding work that causes strain. You should learn to recognise the limits of your wellbeing and ensure that leisure time lets you recover instead of wearing you out.

The sick leave gave me a breather during which I gradually got back my normal sleep pattern. This, in turn, gave me resources I had long been lacking. During my sick leave, I learned how to create new kinds of routines in my everyday life and to explore which things help me cope and which sap my strength. Nowadays, I keep exhaustion away with a simple recipe: at least seven hours of sleep per night, a regular meal schedule and enough time for friends.

Psychiatrist Tarja-Sisko Saastamoinen from the FSHS was interviewed for the text.

Saana Lehtinen
HYY’s communications intern

Further information:
https://www.kela.fi/web/en/eligibility-sickness