One in three students may have a mental disorder
33.9 per cent of Norwegian students may currently have a mental illness, according to a new supplementary survey to the Norwegian Students' health and Well-being survey (SHoT).
“This is the first time we have examined the prevalence of mental health problems among Norwegian students. The figures show that about one in three students meet the formal criteria for a current mental disorder, according to the diagnostic tool we have used,” Kari-Jussie Lønning says. She is the leader of the SHoT survey.
More than 10,000 students have responded to the survey, which is a standardised and validated tool developed by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Norwegian Institute of Public Health is conducting the survey and analysing the results on behalf of SiT, SiO and Sammen.
The numbers are cause for concern, according to Sandra Borch (Centre Party), the minister of research and higher education.
Higher proportion of women
“The survey paints a picture of a serious public health challenge that we must address collectively. When so many young people report struggling with various mental disorders, we as a society must take it very seriously,” Borch says.
The numbers become even more significant over time. About half of those who responded to the survey may have had a mental disorder over the past year.
The survey shows that 57.3 per cent of the female respondents meet the diagnostic criteria for a mental disorder in the past year, while the proportion is 42.5 per cent for men.
“We were surprised by how high the numbers are. Even though the number is higher among women, it’s also high among men. Students who experience serious mental health problems face a range of obstacles that can affect their academic performance, quality of life, and long-term well-being,” Lønning says.
Depression and anxiety
The most common mental disorders among students are depression and anxiety disorders.
Three in ten meet the criteria for a ‘serious depressive episode’ over the past year. The core symptoms of depressive disorders are low mood and energy, combined with a loss of interest in or enjoyment of things that were previously enjoyed. About the same number meet the criteria for an anxiety disorder.
“When you need help, it is important to seek help early. Students can get help from their GP, from the health and care service in the municipality where they study, through referrals to specialist health services, or from health services offered by the student welfare organisation,” minister of health and care services Ingvild Kjerkol (Labour Party) says.
Three billion for mental health
Elise Waagen, education policy spokesperson for the Labour Party, says the government will spend NOK 3 billion (roughly 280 million USD) on mental health in the future.
“This will include ensuring low-threshold services close to where people live, where one can get help without a referral,” she says.
Lønning hopes the survey can contribute to improving students' mental health.
“We hope that the knowledge base can contribute to the work for an inclusive and supportive environment for students, where their mental health is prioritised on par with their academic success,” the SHoT leader says.
The National Union of Students in Norway (NSO) believes the situation is grave and calls for action from politicians.
“Once again, we’re faced with concerning statistics about the mental health of students. What we need now are politicians who actually take action, rather than making vague promises about future priorities,” Oline Sæther, head of NSO, says.
The organisation believes that tight finances, poor learning environments, and a lack of focus on student volunteerism are reasons why students report mental ill-health.
“We expect politicians to meet our needs. We must be ensured an economy that allows us to spend time on activities that make us feel good. This includes being active in student volunteering – an important preventive tool. To reduce the need for treatment, we must invest more in what prevents mental health problems,” Sæther concludes.
Translated by Alette Bjordal Gjellesvik