In connection with the municipal elections, we will publish a series of blogs in which the political student organizations of the parliamentary parties will take a stand on mental health policy. At Nyyti, we want to increase the social debate on mental health and thus increase our turnout. You can find out about Nyyti’s municipal election goals here. You can also find a more detailed election schedule on the page.

This short, fictional story shows what daily life in the coronavirus era is like for Olliina, who is a student in a higher education institution. Olliina the student has been feeling lonely for a long time, and the past year definitely hasn’t made things easier—on the contrary, life is much harder. She’s exhausted, but she has decided to take the crucial step and get some help. It’s needed, as it’s getting difficult for her to cope with constant exams, the stress that comes with her studies, and isolated distance learning on top of everything else. To make matters worse, she hasn’t yet found any friends after moving to a new town for her studies. Olliina opens her web browser and heads to the Finnish Student Health Service page to look at her care options. The FSHS (YTHS) service number for appointments is active on weekdays from 8a.m. to 3p.m., and the website immediately states that callbacks will take a couple of days. The chat service has also been disabled. Olliina is devastated. 

Next, Olliina the student gets reminded by her school that she must take her exams according to schedule. Our society actively reminds students that everyone must stay on track and at pace, or there will be financial repercussions later on. Olliina has already said farewell to the idea of getting some of her student loans compensated by graduating on time because she values her mental health more than money. The private sector could offer her a mental health appointment almost immediately, but there’s no way she can afford it as a self-supporting student. That is, after COVID-19 took away every bit of her meager additional income. 

A WhatsApp notification pops up. It’s Olliina’s classmate, who’s asking how Olliina’s part of a major group assignment is coming along. Olliina starts to type “I haven’t had the energy,” but she erases those words because that’s not an acceptable response. “They’ll think I’m lazy,” Olliina muses and writes: “I haven’t yet had the time.” Now, Olliina the student is even more anxious than before because she fears that a guilt trip is coming her way. Based on social media, it seems that everyone else is doing great, and no one appears to have a shortage of friends. 

The phone beeps. It’s not the FSHS, nor is it a friend contacting her. It’s just another pointless “special offer.” Olliina tosses her phone to the side and tries to get started on the group assignment, but the loneliness, stress, and pressures of her studies burst out of her as hysterical crying. “No one cares about me,” she thinks, and crumbles. 

With this fictional story, we at Demariopiskelijat want to highlight the challenges people face when seeking help from public mental health services. These challenges didn’t start with the coronavirus. In recent years, an increasing number of students have sought help from mental health services. At the same time, the expected completion times for degrees have been cut short, and the lines to mental health services have grown longer. Proof of a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the two matters isn’t available at the time, but an expedited studying pace certainly creates a pressure to succeed for students. An equally hectic pacesetter is the student loan compensation system. It aims to do good, but are people like Olliina, who are striving to qualify for a student loan compensation, doing so at the cost of their mental well-being? Is the system hurting students who cherish their mental health or spread their course load over a longer time period for some other reason? 

Students’ ability to cope has to be supported from early on. A fine example of this is the “Healthy Mind” (Terve mieli) project launched by the Student Union of the University of Turku. The project works to improve the students’ and staff’s ability to support and guide students in various mental health matters, through peer support.  

For instance, the Helsingin Sanomat opinions page covers mental health topics almost daily. Loneliness isn’t just a young person’s problem, either, as shown in a recent Finnish Red Cross study. The results show that almost one third of Finns feel lonely. One example of a care solution is Helsinki’s goal of implementing the Terapiatakuu care guarantee system by 2022. It remains to be seen how soon other cities follow suit. 

One reason for the slow admittance to mental health services is a lack of professionals, whether we’re looking at doctors, psychotherapists, or other healthcare personnel. The Demariopiskelijat (SONK) association has also raised mental health issues up for discussion, for example, last autumn, when our current president wrote a commentary on making psychotherapist training tuition-free.  

As is evident, there are several solutions that can be utilized by different actors. It won’t be straightforward or easy, but we must take action anyway. Even though mental health issues are often a personal struggle, we must react when the first signs emerge and support the person in need. If your fellow person breaks their arm, you’re not going to just stand there and say “oh dear”—you’ll act immediately. The same should apply to mental health. 

Students can be the face of discussing mental health under proper terms. Students can, through their own actions, help erase the stigmas surrounding mental health. However, only the future will tell how the expansion of FSHS services and progress in the Health Care and Social Welfare Reform affect the situation. Two things are clear: municipalities should still play a role in mental health matters, and students have the will and the vision to foster real change. 

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