Depression and anxiety among 80 percent of UT students

| Rense Kuipers

A staggering 80 percent of UT students suffers from stress, depression or anxiety issues, according to a large-scale study among 1700 UT students. The problems are the worst for female, international and LGBT students.

Just under 20 percent of the respondents show no symptoms of anxiety or depression. However, the vast majority of students reported a variety of issues - from mild symptoms (one third of the respondents) to severe anxiety or depression symptoms among 14.9 percent of students. Most mental health problems occur among women, international students and LGBT students. According to the report, they are therefore the most in need of appropriate interventions.

Saskia Kelders, a researcher at the BMS department of Health, Psychology and Technology, led the research. ‘Very high,’ she calls the number of problem cases. ‘To be honest, I hope that the situation isn’t that bad for the entire UT student population. There is a risk of bias here. After all, if you receive an email about this research and you feel that this topic is not relevant to you, you would in principle be less inclined to complete the survey.’

Heavy drinkers

What is noticeable in the research results, apart from the mental issues, is the substance use among UT students. Compared to the Dutch population, alcohol consumption is high. The report shows that 35.3 percent of UT students drink six or more glasses on one occasion, at least one a month. For the Dutch population, that percentage is 19.5 percent. The percentage of ‘heavy drinkers’ is also higher compared to students at other Dutch universities, with 14.7 percent compared to 12.7 percent. Although Kelders suggests that it’s relatively easy to fall into such a group, because the bar is set relatively low for students if it comes to alcohol use.

Drug use also shows poignant numbers: 34 percent of UT students used cannabis last year, compared to 15.6 percent at other Dutch universities. Ecstasy and cocaine also appear to be more popular in Enschede than elsewhere in the country: 9.3 percent of UT students used ecstasy last year, compared to 1.5 percent nationwide. For cocaine that was 3.3 percent to 1.5 percent. The use of ‘concentrating and enhancing’ means such as Speed, Ritalin or Adderall, incidentally, is half of the numbers at other universities. And according to the report, UT students smoke less than the average university student.

Compulsive internet use

UT students do score high on compulsive internet use: an average of 18.52 on the Compulsive Internet Use Scale. According to the creators of that scale, with a score of 17 you are already a problematic internet user. This is the case with more than half of the UT respondents. According to the researchers, loneliness also appears to be a determining underlying factor. A silver lining is that students engaged in activism seemingly score significantly better on well-being and sense of belonging.

In the current situation, almost half of the UT students who filled out the survey need professional help with their depression or anxiety problems. While only a quarter of them received professional help last year. The makers call it an ‘unsustainable situation’. ‘For example, it is inpracticable for the student psychologists to offer the required help to all students in need,’ says Kelders.

Stop problems in their tracks

The report also has a concise list of recommendations: opt for a preventive approach and stop problems in their tracks, continue to monitor the mental health of UT students, integrate attention to mental health and stress in education, give specific attention to risk groups and focus on predictive factors of mental health problems. Namely resilience, stress mindset, intolerance of uncertainty, fear of missing out, loneliness and sense of belonging.

The recommendations and the results of the report form the basis for a UT-wide student welfare plan, which is in the pipeline. The baseline of that plan is to take a more integrated approach to efforts concerning student welfare. ‘That certainly seems like a good idea,’ says Kelders. ‘Not only is more research needed. We must all look at what is needed to improve the situation, knowing that there are no quick fixes. Putting our heads in the sand certainly does not help, luckily there is a sense of that.’