Boosting university student mental health – learnings from the Mental Health Symposium, Budapest. Day 1
On Friday, 14th of October, a two-day-long Mental Health Symposium was held at Semmelweiss University in Budapest by EUniWEll. At this symposium, students and teachers from the seven EUniWell universities gathered. The main topic was the mental health of students in general, and students at universities-members particularly. The aim was for students to come together to create a proposal on improving mental health among students.
Excellent organization and warm, welcoming acceptance by hosting students stroke our ears and eyes at once when we entered Semmelweis University. All were friendly, standing at different spots and ready to help if needed.
It was mentioned at the opening sessions that students nowadays face multiple mental health problems and the main task of EUniWell is to find and address them by creating and maintaining support facilities.
Prof. György Purebl held a lecture about generation “Z”, to which the bulk of the current generation of students belongs. He picturesquely described the main character of “Z” – a contemporary student, who is good at abstract thinking, skillful in dealing with a large volume of information from the internet, can discuss openly private things, but is very sensitive to criticism and wants to be successful quickly, preferably accelerating with ’4x speed’. So the difficulty of this generation is not being capable to fulfill all these criteria. Hence challenges are often avoided, and there is a continuity of fear of failing. These students do not want to wait for results, but desire success here and now. But no pain – no gain. The discrepancy between having ambitious desires and lack of resources risk leading to mental ill-health. What should be done to support students in their everyday struggles? What facilities or activities should be organized?
Something worrying that the professor raised was that a lot of students struggle with depression, and 11% of students struggle with suicidal thoughts. The question is WHY. He raised the issue that there is barely any study supporting well the WHY behind this number. But there are many theories about the WHY. Such as the discrepancy between the ambitions of the students and the resources provided by the universities. What was of interest is that at Semmelweis University, a comprehensive student support program has been introduced to help the students with how to handle work-related stress, how to handle difficult situations by practice, and how to manage their life through curricular and extra curricular activities. This program is conducted at the institute of behavioral science and the department of psychiatric therapy.
In the second session, a comparative analysis of mental health resources within EUniWell Universities made by Aliaa Adi, a psychology student at the Leiden University and Sloan Kudrinko, a dental student at Semmelweis University was presented. These data have been collected by members of the The Mental Health Symposium Project at the different partner universities of EuniWell (at Lnu by Soniya Billore and Lali Lindell). The results showed that people with no mental health diagnosis had the highest well-being scores. An interesting result was that they found that Linnaeus University, compared to all the other EUniWell universities, was the one with the largest share of students that would not go to a student psychologist if they faced problems. The students representing the Linnaeus University started to wonder how come. Is there a stigma about it? Is there a lack of confidence in the mental health faculty at that university? Or is it just that students might seek help from psychologists in the Swedish healthcare system outside the university facility? This would be interesting to know since students answering they would go to a student psychologist for help had higher well-being scores than others, while the ones that probably would not go scored a lower well-being.
During previous sessions, only students discussed the causes and consequences of their mental health problems. Unanswered, in the air, the question: “what about teachers?” was flying around. Does not the atmosphere of the educational institution depend on the interaction between students and teachers? Is it dependent on the style of teaching: authoritarian or democratic? As well as on methods of teaching: lecturing or interactive discussions? And what about the objective grading? Does this exist in all the universities that are part of EUniWell?
Finally, the teacher perspective was addressed by Prof. Giovanna Del Gobbo and Prof. Daniela Frison from the University of Florence. They mentioned that teachers have worse mental health compared to other educational groups. They suffer from a conservative educational system, conflicts, communication difficulties at workplaces, underestimating their profession and low pay. That is why they commonly leave their jobs. But is it not so that teachers’ mental health facilitates students’ well-being and vice versa? The professors presented the Teachers Education Arena at EUniWell, where professional standards of future teachers were proposed, such as sustainability, healthcare, well-being, inclusion, and guidance.
It seemed as if the last presentation about teachers brought a breakthrough of honest student feedback about their lives at universities and their mental health issues. A free discussion was held about student-teacher interactions and teaching styles. It felt as if it was a group session therapy and that it was very appreciated. One student mentioned: “It is not that we are oversensitive. We are more confident and know how to stand for our rights!”
Authors: Isabella Gigante and Yelyzaveta Hordiienko, Health Science Master programme, Linnaeus University
Editor: Lali Lindell, Linnaeus University