One out of every six students is a voluntary carer for sick family members. These students are having a hard time: 49% of them have developed psychological problems such as depression, sadness or anxiety.

This has emerged from research carried out on students at the University of Amsterdam and Windesheim University of Applied Sciences. On top of their psychological problems, 20% of these student carers are about 6 months behind in their studies while a further 20% consider dropping out of the programme altogether.

Researcher Jolien Dopmeijer carried out research on study success and psychological problems for 5 years and some of the figures on student carers are taken from her research. Ms Dopmeijer received a doctoral grant for her research from Minister of Education Jet Bussemaker. The research population comprised more than 5,000 Amsterdam University students and more than 1,300 Windesheim students.


‘More and more students caring for family members’

Ms Dopmeijer warns that more and more students are taking on care of family members because the government says that people needing care must first apply to family and friends before applying to professional carers. Ms Dopmeijer feels that more attention should be given to students’ psychological problems, especially those of students caring for family members.

Many of these students do not ask for help. Ms Dopmeijer says this is partly due to a ‘climate of pressure to perform’: ‘Everyone has to finish their studies in record time or borrow a lot of money,’ she says. ‘And students are at the age when they still take peer pressure seriously. Nobody likes to say that they don’t want to go out for a drink as they’re feeling depressed.’

‘Many students suffer from psychological problems’

Almost 50% of these student carers suffer from psychosocial problems compared to more than 40% of other students. This means that many students who are not carers have psychological problems as well, Ms Dopmeijer points out. ‘Educational institutions have no idea how big this group is,’ she adds. ‘There are students’ psychologists, but not enough of them.’

We should mention here, though, that these psychological problems came to light as a result of a survey. As Ms Dopmeijer says, this is not the same thing as a diagnosis: ‘Some students may be mourning the death of a loved one,’ she explains. ‘But the symptoms do exist. We use screening instruments used all over the world.’