Almost half of all students in the Netherlands have mental health issues, the Trimbos Institute reported at the end of last year. The study has been the subject of criticism: reportedly, too few students completed the survey. But something is definitely wrong. Statistics Netherlands has also reported an increase in problems.
Criticism of research into student welfare: ‘The study that people are so shocked by is not valid’
According to an alarming survey many students are experiencing mental problems and…
Why is that? The Trimbos Institute had meetings with students and experts to shed some light on it. The principal conclusion is that students face an accumulation of uncertainties. They feel ‘swamped by high demands, expectations and responsibilities’. Students sometimes feel that it is a sort of obstacle run.
They have concerns about the planet because of the climate crisis, war and polarisation, but they also have personal worries over their high energy bills and expensive accommodation (if they can find any). In addition, there are issues such as the binding recommendation on continuation of studies and selection for their preferred master’s programme.
Media reports probably do not always help either, say the experts interviewed by the Trimbos Institute. They believe that so much attention is paid to stress, pressure to perform and mental health problems among students ‘that it sometimes gives them the feeling that all is not well with them’. Acknowledging the problems is good, but be careful of what you say: you must not exacerbate the problems, in the view of the study advisers, student deans, supervisors and other experts that were consulted.
Students agree with that view. The abundance of reports about the pressure to perform, stress and mental health of young people does not help them to cope with the pressure to perform and stress. The researchers advocate a media code, similar to the code for suicide prevention (in reports about suicide, the media always mention that help can be obtained via 113.nl).
As there are so many factors that influence students’ mental wellbeing, the Trimbos Institute has come up with a plethora of possible solutions to which the students themselves, the teaching staff and society can contribute.
For instance, students can talk with others, eat healthy food and make sure they get enough sleep. They should also not take too much notice of the stigma attached to mental problems. It can also be helpful to form their own study groups.
Tips for the teaching staff include personal attention for students, a ‘soft landing’ for freshers and the importance of ‘role models’ who can share their experiences with students. Good information is crucial as well, of course.
And society? Campaigns for healthy eating and good exercise might be a good idea. And attention also needs to be paid to the financial uncertainty of students. Limit rental prices, the researchers advise, and compensate the generation that had to cope with the student loan system. “Don’t attach so many financial consequences to a continuation of studies or to quitting them”, is another recommendation.
The Trimbos Institute does not yet have all the answers, the researchers themselves admit. They recommend further research into issues such as the tipping point from uncertainty (which everyone feels at some stage) to unhealthy pressure to perform and stress.