Students suffered from mental health problems even before the coronavirus
When applying the Mental Health Strategy, particular attention must be paid to students’ wellbeing.
In recent years, challenges with mental health and wellbeing among students have increased. According to the national Finnish Student Health Survey, depression and anxiety disorder diagnoses among higher education students have tripled since 2000. Problems with mental health and coping are also the most important reason for a lack of study ability among young adults.
This theme is even more topical than before during the coronavirus pandemic. As of yet, no data exists on the effects that the coronavirus situation, changes in studying methods and social isolation have on students’ mental health. However, it goes without saying that the exceptional circumstances are difficult for students, too.
Mental health and student wellbeing must be supported comprehensively in study communities and higher education institutions. Students’ mental health challenges and risks must be identified and resolved. The treatment of mental health problems requires sufficient support and wellbeing services for students, such as a sufficient number of study psychologists.
Prevention is the best medicine
The best way to promote mental health, though, is through prevention. By fixing the problem areas in the study environment and organising low-threshold support services, we can step in before actual mental disorders develop. Students’ mental health is promoted by both providing good treatment for mental disorders and looking after the wellbeing of the study environment.
On 11 February, the Finnish Government published the National Mental Health Strategy for 2021–2030. The strategy lists national goals for promoting mental health in the 2020s for both preventive mental health work and the treatment of mental health. Despite the good initiatives and objectives in the Mental Health Strategy, it still sets no concrete goals for improving the mental health of higher education students.
Mental health problems are particularly common during studies
Alarmingly often, mental health problems both begin and continue during studies; according to the Finnish Student Health Survey, around one third of students suffer from them during their studies. Challenges faced by students include burnout caused by studies, meagre subsistence and uncertainty over the future.
The mental wellbeing of higher education students should be developed comprehensively, holistically and based on research. When implementing the National Mental Health Strategy, particular attention must be paid to the mental health challenges of higher education students. The challenges faced by higher education students must be identified and tackled. In addition to this, it is important to ensure that the quality and availability of the University’s guidance services and the FSHS’s services is sufficient and that wellbeing is being promoted in both the planning work of higher education institutions and the decision-making processes related to higher education policy.