For a while now, I have noticed that the current generation of students is struggling. Students experience high levels of performance pressure or loneliness, as well as sleeping problems. And even though they won’t discuss this with me, according to the Trimbos Institute risky substance use among students has also increased. According to RIVM, more than 50 percent of students experience psychological symptoms. That is a lot, and it is worrying because mental health symptoms can worsen or lead to impaired daily functioning. In the long run, this can cause people to drop out of their studies or lose their jobs.
The current generation of students falls under generation Z, they were born between 1995 and 2010. Generation Z is growing up during the economic crisis, climate crisis and the coronavirus crisis, in times of austerity, climate change, terror and a global lockdown. And with lifelong access to the internet and major technological developments. As a result of all the uncertainties and changes, this generation of students is entrepreneurial, independent and open-minded. On the other hand, Generation Z also feel a constant pressure to perform and make the most of themselves. Successes are celebrated on social media (whereas failures are not). Young people feel the pressure to satisfy high expectations of themselves or others.
Fortunately, the university focuses on student well-being and offers support in the form of a student well-being platform. Students can join in with events and social activities in the Living Room and choose support such as coaching and self-help tools, for example the science-based Room App that helps them to manage stress factors. While this is a good step, we need to invest more in students’ mental health.
These days, poorer mental health among young people is a growing social problem. An integral collaboration between practice, policy, science and society, together with young people and their parents, is essential.
First and foremost, more knowledge is needed about the causes, interactions and mechanisms that can predict the mental health and resilience of young people. This will make it possible to help them in a targeted and effective way. Young people who are experiencing problems should have immediate access to appropriate medical or psychological help, without waiting lists. It is also important to learn how to identify and report problems early on, so that timely help can prevent things from getting worse. Finally, as far as I am concerned, we should mainly focus on preventive measures. Increasing mental agility and resilience at an early age can help to prevent problems later on. As the saying goes: catch them while they’re young.