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University community must focus on students’ mental health and ergonomic problems | HYY

10.10.2019

University community must focus on students’ mental health and ergonomic problems

In the spring, we asked our members how they are doing. HYY’s wellbeing survey received almost 1,800 responses and provides us with a good overall picture of the challenges related to the wellbeing of the students of the University of Helsinki. It is an indication of the current state of our advocacy work and the issues we should focus on in the future. The responses highlighted themes we are regrettably familiar with: mental health problems are common among students, and poor ergonomics reduces students’ wellbeing.

A total of 31% of the respondents had used mental health services during the last twelve months. This is a high figure but also well in line with the FSHS’s Finnish Student Health Survey (2016), for instance. Almost two thirds of the students who had used mental health services had received help from the FSHS. However, based on the survey, it is not possible to determine whether they received enough services or whether they received the services quickly enough. Resources allocated to mental health work among higher education students are tight, but it is especially important that the services are near students and quickly available. The citizens’ initiative on immediate access to therapy, which reached over 50,000 signatures, is a step towards the right direction with its demand that treatment should be arranged within four weeks in basic public healthcare.

In addition to treatment for mental health problems, it would be important to increase resources for preventive services. For instance, students’ support services from study counselling to study psychologists are important early-stage services that the University of Helsinki has had to cut down on due to economic pressures. Removing the stigma around mental health problems would also make it easier to seek help.

Besides mental health problems, students encounter various working methods that cause strain and exertion in their studies. 70% of the respondents reported neck or shoulder pain, whereas half reported back pain. Continuous sitting is known to cause problems in the musculoskeletal system, and these problems are accentuated in teaching facilities with ergonomic design from the last millennium. When making new facility arrangements, achieving good ergonomics for studying must be made the most important criterium.

Only 10% of the respondents felt that students are often encouraged to stretch their legs or do other break exercises on lectures and lecture breaks. It would be extremely important to focus on training the staff. There must be enough breaks on lectures. Furthermore, more opportunities to stand up, move around and work in a standing position must be provided. Teaching staff should also be involved in preventing the damages caused by continuous sitting. Working methods that cause strain were emphasised in the survey’s open answers among veterinary and craft teacher students, for instance. The faculties must also take responsibility here.

HYY’s wellbeing survey highlighted the same concerns as our previous surveys. It is important to regularly monitor how our students’ wellbeing is developing. At the same time, the survey results provide our advocacy work with something to lean on when promoting issues that are important to HYY’s members. So, thank you to everyone who responded to the survey! We in the Student Union will continue our active work for a healthy student community.

Riikka Hakala