Visits to “nerve doctors”, mental hygiene, long-term psychotherapy, preventive mental health, peer support groups, digital services. In the course of 50 years, student mental health services and the focus areas have changed within the Finnish Student Health Service. However, the goal remains unchanged: to support student wellbeing and ability to study.
The prevalence of mental health problems was first investigated during the 1960s, and the first results were obtained in 1967. The result was in shocking contrast to the general opinion of the day: 23% of first-year students were diagnosed with mental health problems.
“The FSHS officially launched its mental health services in 1969, when the Foundation’s Delegate Committee decided that mental health advisory services for students should be introduced in all towns and cities no later than 1 September 1969,” says the sixth FSHS Mental Health Medical Director, Tommi Väyrynen.
In the 1970s, advisory psychologists joined the team of mental health professionals. Work was conducted in collaboration with student associations and universities with the aim to reduce “factors adversely affecting mental health”. Communal mental health work was not universally appreciated back then, but there was discussion about the importance of preventive work in the context of balancing service supply and needs. Despite this, long-term psychotherapies increased in the 1980s. Longer-term therapy resulted in a reduction in the proportion of students receiving mental health services at the FSHS, the figure being only slightly over 3% of all students by the mid-1980s. The economic recession of the 1990s forced the FSHS to re-evaluate its activities, and long-term psychotherapy was offered less often. The focus of FSHS mental health work shifted to early intervention and shorter treatment periods.
“Many changes and performance pressures have always been a part of student years, and these may accumulate and result in psychiatric symptoms. This hasn’t changed over the years. The reasons for seeking treatment have also been quite similar from decade to decade. In the early days of mental health work at the FSHS, the most common reasons included problems with studies, depression, anxiety, problems in interpersonal relations, phobias, and social anxiety. Today, various depression and anxiety disorders are prominent among diagnoses,” says Väyrynen.
Increasing demand, service digitalisation
Ever since the 1970s, the demand for student mental health services has exceeded supply. Demand has increased particularly strongly throughout the 2000s.
“Mental health visits have increased during 2016–2018. Last year, 13% of those entitled to use the FSHS services visited us due to mental health reasons. Over one fifth out of the students actually using the services arrive because of psychological symptoms. This year, the figure is close to 25%,” says Väyrynen.
In the 1990s, no-one believed that the Internet had any potential in the treatment of mental health problems. However, increasing demand and the needs of clients have increased the need to find new solutions to service provision. At the same time, digital solutions have improved in leaps and bounds. The FSHS has collaborated in the development of many kinds of digital services during the 2010s. Such services currently in use include video consultations, online therapies, and online courses for mental health self-management supplemented by virtual visits to public health nurses.
“The goal in organising the FSHS’s mental health services is to ensure fast access to care and provide close support in the early stages of mental health problems. This means that as many students as possible get help with mild or moderate mental health problems. The role of digital services will grow in the future, as they lower the threshold for seeking treatment and enable help to be provided more promptly,” Väyrynen predicts.
Further information: Mental Health Medical Director Tommi Väyrynen, p. 046 876 9743