The National Mental Health Strategy, which was published at the start of February, lays the foundation for the mental health policy of the coming decade. The Government is also drawing up a resolution on the mental health strategy as part of the implementation of the strategy. The resolution will include instructions for the state administration’s preliminary work and direct the Government’s activities. The resolution must especially acknowledge the people who are particularly affected by mental health issues.
Students in higher education cannot be ignored in the measures based on the strategy, because individuals experience immense pressure at the transition between youth and adulthood. For most people, this life stage is when they study and move into working life. The demands to advance in their studies, the challenges related to making a living, and the pressures of an uncertain future can create a challenging equation which takes its toll on the mind. People under 35 already top the statistics on mental health issues.
In addition to the conflicting pressures on young people, structural changes in society also have a direct impact on the individual’s wellbeing. Higher education and income policy measures, for example, will always also affect the everyday lives of young adults. When making socio-political decisions it is therefore important to also acknowledge their impact on mental health.
The number of mental health issues have been on the rise among students in higher education since the beginning of the 21st century. Based on the results of the health survey for higher education students (2016), 30 per cent of participants suffered from mental health issues. The most common challenges include constant stress, depression, difficulties concentrating on one’s studies, and insomnia caused by worry. Mental health issues are the main factor that reduce students’ ability to study.
Mental health problems do not only affect students’ ability to study, they also have a more far-reaching impact on their lives. Mental health issues increase the risk to withdraw from one’s studies, or even for marginalisation. Since 2000, an increasing number of young people have had to claim disability pension because of mental health issues. The situation of the people withdrawing from their studies or working life is alarming, because only one fifth of young adults on disability pension ever return to the job market permanently. The OECD has estimated that the costs that the decline in people’s mental health is causing the labour market, health care services and social security is 11 billion euros per year. We simply cannot afford not to treat mental health problems.
Promoting mental health among students in higher education is also sensible employment policy, because the resources spent on promoting mental health will not only increase students’ wellbeing in their studies, but it will also indirectly increase employment by maintaining the ability to work into the future. There is a risk that the young generations will have to shoulder the costs of the deteriorating dependency ratio and maintaining the entire Finnish welfare state. By looking after students’ mental health, we are also looking after the employees of the future and maintaining the welfare state.
In addition to high-quality mental health services that can be accessed quickly, mental health problems should also be prevented by increasing the awareness of mental health issues in society, among other things. In addition to changing attitudes, we also need extensive understanding of how policy changes affect wellbeing. Mental wellbeing should be promoted on all levels of society, and decisions should be made in collaboration with experts and by making use of the knowledge held in organisations. We need healthy minds for a successful Finland.