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Mental health of students: indicators in the negative

Mental health of students: indicators in the negative

Mental health of students: indicators in the negative

“Our data confirms what we see on the ground: the mental health of students has not improved since Covid, quite the contrary,” notes Christophe Tzouriau, professor of epidemiology and director of the Health Service (SSU) of the University of Bordeaux before the start of the 2023 academic year. “Psychologists and psychiatrists at Chu and SSU tell us about increased demand and increasingly complex cases of psychological suffering,” continues the youth health specialist.

In 2021, at the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world was alerted to an alarming figure: at least one in five young people aged 18 to 24 “suffered from depression,” according to French public health data. The figures compiled by Christophe Tzourio and his colleague Melissa Macalley, a postdoctoral fellow specializing in youth mental health and an Inserm researcher, are even more alarming. For about ten years they carried out several in-depth studies on the psychology of Bordeaux students, in which in total more than 20,000 young people took part. “Before Covid, 25% of them had symptoms of depression. In 2022-23, 43% of students were concerned,” according to the latest Prism study of 2,000 young people, explains Melissa McAlley.

students say they suffer from symptoms of depression
Prismatic view

If the numbers differ, observations from French Public Health confirm this trend. “Mood disorders, suicidal ideation and gestures… Urgent care use for these reasons increased sharply in 2021, then in 2022 and continued significantly in 2023 among those aged 18–24,” explains Ingrid Gilleseau, director of mental health national agency. Other indicators illustrate the decline in the well-being of part of the student population.

Coviprev’s latest post-pandemic survey of 2,000 volunteers, published in January 2023, found anxiety reached 43% of 18-24-year-olds responding, with suicidal ideation affecting a quarter of them. . The Nightline helpline, which offers free discussion to students about anxiety, loneliness or depression 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, demonstrates the same dynamic. “The number of calls has steadily increased since our inception in 2017,” the association adds, with around 20,000 calls received in 2022-23, up from 14,000 the year before.

“70% say they often or very often feel lonely. A quarter said they felt very lonely all the time.”

After the quarantine, we attributed this explosion of anxiety among young people to the extreme anomaly of the global pandemic, which blurred many guidelines, placed the fear of infection on the shoulders of young people and intensified the consequences of instability in the student age. jobs have disappeared. How can we explain this even more critical situation three years later? “We have hypotheses, but there is no consensus,” points out Ingrid Zhilaizo.

Other factors also influence a population’s overall mental health, according to Aude Karia, director of Psycom, a public organization for mental health information and anti-stigma. “We are experiencing an accumulation of crises, medical, then geopolitical with Ukraine and now with Israel, but also economic and climate, which make it difficult to plan for a peaceful future, especially for young people who are very exposed to images that are sometimes extremely violent on the networks, that creates both an addictive and surprising effect,” says the psychologist.

However, these numbers should be put in perspective as they could be impacted in a very positive way. “Today we also talk more easily about our mental health because in recent years we have been experiencing a collective awareness that has noticeably changed taboos for young people. Networks also allow testimony to be given or transmitted through pop culture, music, art, sports… We have seen this with young athletes such as Naomi Osaka or Simone Bale who talk about their mental state, emphasizes Aud Karia.

According to experts from the University of Bordeaux, the consequences of the pandemic and quarantine, however, are not trivial. “Even as we return to normal at universities, what really stands out is the return to social contacts, which remain very difficult, and the deep sense of loneliness,” explains Melissa McAlley. Among those surveyed, “70% say they often or very often feel lonely. A quarter said they felt very lonely all the time.”

A constellation of tools to take care of your mental health

Faced with these dismal numbers, mental health stakeholders are banking on campaigns focused on prevention and positive action this year. Because, despite the gradual opening of speech, “young people aged 18–24 are on average less worried about their mental health or their well-being than their elders,” the national agency recalls in a press release for the start of the 2023 school year. French public health publishes, in particular on networks (Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) a series of videos “Fild-Good” with advice to “act positively on your mental health”, focusing on physical activity and social activity. for others, sleep or even gratitude.

“We have surveillance. What is important now is to provide information about what we can do to take care of ourselves and the remedies available if we experience discomfort,” says Ingrid Gilleseau. Nightline is launching the Head First campaign, which brings together testimonials and advice from top athletes to break the stigma around discomfort and take care of your head through sport.

“When it comes to mental health, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, only complementary solutions,” comments Aud Karia. “Information and support is a long-term job, but we are in the process of creating a set of tools that young people need to use: seeing a psychologist when needed, community support lines before you get there, and all the everyday activities that enable you to to maintain your well-being,” she concludes.

The University of Bordeaux has introduced several cutting-edge tools to equip students and staff with the knowledge needed to address this public health challenge. “We encourage very proactive prevention. With the Prism study, we offered participants a tool to help them understand the state of their mental health: personalized mental health assessments, indicator by indicator, with psychological tips and resources for each student, tailored facilities,” explains Christophe Tsouriau.

A big hit: University students now want to make it a tool for regular mental “check-ups.” More than 1,200 young people and teachers also received two days of “psychological support” training, piloted at the University of Bordeaux in the wake of the health crisis.

While the cost of a session with a psychologist is also cited as a major barrier for young people, the Student Mental Health scheme, which allows them to take advantage of 8 reimbursable sessions with an approved psychologist after receiving a prescription from a doctor, has once again been extended until 2023. Since 2021, more than 260,000 sessions have been provided to 52,000 students out of nearly 3 million. Not enough for associations like Nightline, who see the need to see a GP as a barrier and are still calling for a “true national strategy for student mental health”.

Source: Le Parisien

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