Mental health is an escalating problem among university students in Sweden. The report “Mental ill health among students in higher education is preventable”, published by the Public Health Agency of Sweden in 2018, notes that “Compared with people the same age who are working, a higher proportion of students in higher education have reduced mental well-being, suicidal thoughts or feelings of worry, nervousness or anxiety.”

Uppsala University has a far-reaching responsibility

The relationship between a university and its students is comparable to the relationship between an employer and its employees. The Higher Education Ordinance states, for example, that every higher education institution has a responsibility to meet students’ needs for healthcare, “particularly preventive healthcare that aims to support students’ physical and mental health”. The Work Environment Act puts students on essentially the same footing as workers under the act.

“We want students to feel well during their time at the University, even though it can be stressful at times,” says Coco Norén, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Uppsala University. “For this reason the Student Health Service conducts a range of activities to promote students’ mental health. The Student Health Service also provides support to both students and members of staff. All of us who work in education have a day-to-day responsibility to ensure that students have a reasonable workload and time to recover.”

Actions from different angles

A student barometer survey in 2020 found that 38 per cent of respondents at Uppsala University agreed completely or to a high degree that they experience negative stress because of their study situation, while a fifth agree that their study situation has negative effects on their mental well-being. The same survey reveals that women experience a higher degree of demands and stress than men. Just over a third of women, as against just over a fifth of men, agree to a high degree that they make high demands of themselves and that these demands cause them problems.

A preliminary study at Uppsala University in 2021 proposed various measures, including at University-wide level, with actions to enhance the capacity and knowledge of staff to contribute to students’ well-being.

“It’s always possible to do more, but it’s important to say that a great deal is already being done. The University’s task is to provide the best conditions for students to pursue their studies successfully. In day-to-day contact with students, the University’s teachers meet the students where they are, including how they are feeling. Students’ well-being is an important factor in planning courses, groups and assessments, for example.”

What impact has the extra funding for promoting student health services that the government provided in 2021 had?

“It’s meant a lot, we’ve taken initiatives for international students in particular. We’ve also employed more people to work with target groups that we know experience special challenges in their studies. In addition, the funding has enabled us to offer training in Mental Health First Aid to student-facing staff at the University.”

What’s being done at the University just now to promote students’ well-being?

“To make it easier for members of staff and students to find the right person for their questions, we are currently putting together the University-wide support for equal opportunities and the work environment for students. We are also conducting a follow-up to the preliminary study from 2021 and implementing various measures to augment students’ well-being.

“These are questions we need to work on continuously in collaboration across the whole University. The Mental Health Week held each autumn, in which students, researchers and support services participate, is one example of this.”