Around 30 per cent of university students have reported symptoms of mental health issues in studies conducted in Finland. (Seppo Samuli – Lehtikuva)


“STUDYING is not what’s causing mental health disorders and illnesses,” reminds Kristina Kunttu, a senior physician at Finnish Student Health Service (YTHS).

The mental health of higher education students has been the subject of considerable, at times heated, public debate since the beginning of the month, following a public statement issued by the National Union of University Students in Finland (SYL).

SYL on 1 July urged the public to consider why students are the only population group without the right to a holiday and holiday-related financial support, adding that students are struggling to find both summer jobs that enable them to utilise their studies and enough courses to remain eligible for the student grant in the summer.

A third of students, it highlighted, struggle with mental health problems partly because they do not get sufficient rest between “stressful periods of study”.

YTHS in 2016 reported that one per cent of first-year higher education students evaluated their mental health as very poor, six per cent as poor and slightly over 22 per cent as adequate. Most of the students, however, exhibited mild symptoms that could be treated without the help of a mental health professional, according to Kunttu.

She tells that the prevalence of symptoms was approximated by means of four different methods, including a 12-item general health questionnaire called GHQ-12 and a 34-item measure of psychological distress called CORE-OM.

“The figure of 30 per cent is the outcome of all of the measures. Not all of the measures produce the same results, but generally speaking you can say that 25–30 per cent are showing symptoms,” explained Kunttu.

The percentage, she added, applies not only to students but also to the rest of the population.

“Studying is not what’s causing mental disorders and illnesses. They stem from childhood and adolescence and typically start to manifest at the age of 16. Your life situation naturally has an impact on their manifestation,” she said.

“Adolescence is not the easiest period in life, even though many think it is. Over a ten-year period, people have to make a decision about their career, strive towards it, complete their studies, get into a relationship, start a family and distance themselves form their childhood home. That’s a lot of challenging things. They also don't have the same life experience as a 50-year-old.”

The same study found that the share of university students who have been diagnosed with depression has increased moderately to around seven per cent.

Kunttu reminded that mental health disorders, illnesses and their symptoms have been studied since the 1960s. The results may not have changed dramatically, but the attitudes of patients have.

“We’re talking about the disorders nowadays and know how to treat them. They used to be associated with a stigma, and no one used to believe the results immediately,” she said. “People have learned to name their feelings and condition. If you had asked a man in the 1970s if he was suffering from anxiety, he probably wouldn’t have understood what you meant.”

Aleksi Teivainen – HT
Source: Uusi Suomi