Shocking increase in mental health problems among students

Many college and university students have suffered from mental issues in the past year, according to the joint study between Trimbos Institute, RIVM and GGD GHOR Netherlands.

The study, called “Monitor Mental Health and Substance Use Among Students”, was conducted among 28,000 students from fifteen participating educational institutions during the third wave of the Covid pandemic, between May and June of 2021. It was commissioned bye Minister of Education, Culture and Science, Ingrid van Engelshoven, and State Secretary Paul Blokhuis. It was the first time that such a study of this nature and magnitude was conducted among college and university students in the Netherlands.

One element of the study was stress. It was reported that 97 per cent of students experienced stress, while for half of all students this stress was due to Covid. More than half of the respondents reported experiences of psychological problems associated with exhaustion, loneliness and pressure to perform. 12 per cent of these problems were classified as serious. When it came to pressure to perform, it was highlighted that more than half of students experienced pressure to perform, with this pressure stemming from themselves or others.

Furthermore, more than three quarters of students felt lonely; a quarter felt a strong sense of loneliness. 80 per cent indicated that Covid was the major source of their loneliness, since most of them were taking online classes, while places for socialization like cafes and gyms were closed.

26 per cent of students were so negatively affected that they sometimes wanted to take their own lives. Covid was the major factor, while student debt also affected the students’ mental wellbeing. For example, 50 per cent of students with a current student debt of €50,000 or more experienced a high degree of financial stress, compared to 24 per cent of students with astudent debt of less than €5,000.

The study also sheds light on the issue of substance abuse among students. 27 per cent of respondents admitted to being excessive drinkers, with 41 per cent indicating that it was socially acceptable in their group of friends to drink more than ten alcoholic drinks on a night out. In terms of drugs, cannabis was the most consumed drug, taking into account that it is easily accessible. It was reported that a third of students had used it once in the previous year. Moreover, 13 per cent of respondents had used ecstasy in the same period, 9 per cent had used nitrous oxide and 4 per cent other medicines. Telling was the fact that these drugs were consumed especially during exam periods. International students, immigrants and those who identified as LGBTQ+ were reported to have a harder time during the pandemic.

The results of this study shocked the authorities. Lisanne de Roos, Chair of the Inter-city Student Consultation (ISO), said: “It is shocking to see that so many students are struggling to keep their heads above water and that one in four students say that they wish to be dead now and then. After today, no one can say that mental problems occur only in a few students.”

A similar sentiment was communicated by the Minister of Education, Ingrid van Engelshoven: “We are going to work on this with the greatest urgency, together with students, colleges, universities, mental health providers and researchers.”Furthermore, the Minister elaborated that stress from pressure to perform among students came from more than just education. Financial problems and the bleak prospects in the labour and housing market played an important role.

The National Education Program has started investing in improving the mental health of students. It aims to providesupport to everyone experiencing difficulties by increasing a sense of connection and involvement between students and between educational institutions and students.

The study will be followed up every two years in the coming years.

Written by Stephen Swai