Only 66% of higher education students consider their mental wellbeing to be good, reveals the Student health study conducted by the Finnish Student Health Service (FSHS) in 2016. According to the same study, around one third of students have psychological difficulties.
The increase in mental health problems experienced by students is alarming. When you consider all the factors related to students’ situations in life that cause them strain, however, it does not seem that surprising that some students’ mental health is affected. Constantly worrying about study progress and whether you have enough money, for instance, is exhausting. Many students work part time along their studies, which adds more stress to everyday life. Weekdays are spent in lecture halls and exams, weekends at work. When many permanently employed people are enjoying their Christmas vacation, students are often working or sending applications for summer jobs, with the application process beginning earlier each year. The boundaries between leisure, work and studying are blurred. Sometimes, everyday life becomes so exhausting to students that they need a vacation from it.
I became exhausted after a couple years of studies in my dream field. Before this, I had moved hundreds of kilometres away from my home city, Helsinki, to pursue my previous student place, become disappointed with my studies, read for entrance exams once again, received a new student place and moved back to Helsinki. I was grateful and happy of my new student place. I wanted to make the most of student life and got involved in subject organisation activities in addition to studying intensively. Besides the studies and organisational activities, I had a physically demanding part-time job where the days occasionally stretched out to ten hours. Other sources of stress were constantly present in my everyday life, too.
In retrospect, I can see the reasons for my burnout clearly, but in the initial rush my new student place had given me, I could only wonder how I could be so anxious with everything I had achieved. I slept less and worse all the time and ate irregularly. One morning, I was so tired that I did not remember how to use a door handle and when I was introducing myself to a new acquaintance, I panicked for a moment as I could not remember my own first name for a few seconds.
When everyday life is causing you anxiety, you should take action early enough. You should not hesitate to use the mental health services of the FSHS. They exist for you.
Students have the possibility and permission to take sick leave just like anyone else. If you do not have enough resources for working and studying, you can apply for Kela’s sickness allowance. Student aid is not paid while you receive sickness allowance, and you need a medical certificate to receive the allowance. The amount of the allowance is based either on your taxable earnings or the study grant and is always at least as much as the study grant. To avoid an interruption in the payment of benefits while you are waiting for a decision on the sickness allowance, you can continue to receive student aid until the decision has been made. After you have been granted the sickness allowance, Kela will automatically stop paying you student aid. When your sick leave ends, you must apply to have your student aid reinstated yourself.
You do not need to stop studying entirely when you are receiving sickness allowance – higher education students may study a maximum of three credits’ worth per month.
In situations related to the lack of study ability, students may call the FSHS’ number for treatment need assessment – you will receive further instructions on reserving a time there. The need for a sick leave is assessed at an appointment with a general practitioner. If needed, the general practitioner will refer the student to a psychiatrist who assesses the need for a longer sick leave related to mental health reasons. If the student has a job and their incapacity for work is related to a part-time job done alongside studies, for instance, they can also contact occupational healthcare on matters related to sick leaves.
Studying is demanding work that causes strain. You should learn to recognise the limits of your wellbeing and ensure that leisure time lets you recover instead of wearing you out.
The sick leave gave me a breather during which I gradually got back my normal sleep pattern. This, in turn, gave me resources I had long been lacking. During my sick leave, I learned how to create new kinds of routines in my everyday life and to explore which things help me cope and which sap my strength. Nowadays, I keep exhaustion away with a simple recipe: at least seven hours of sleep per night, a regular meal schedule and enough time for friends.
Psychiatrist Tarja-Sisko Saastamoinen from the FSHS was interviewed for the text.
HYY’s communications intern