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Study shows: no increase in mental health problems among Dutch students

Published: 11th November 2019 Last updated: 21st November 2019

Over the past ten years, the prevalence of mental health problems among students and non-students has not increased. For instance, serious anxiety and depression symptoms, fatigue, and use of mental health services was not more prevalent in 2012 and 2017, than in 2007. In addition, no differences were found between students and non-students.

These are the main findings of a study among 1,100 young adults (19-24 years of age) conducted by CentERdata and Tilburg University. The results are based on a large representative sample of the Dutch population, e.g. the longitudinal LISS panel.

The results show that in 2007, 2012, and 2017 approximately 7% of the students and non-students of the same age experienced serious problems in their studies or work due to health or mental health problems. In all three years approximately 35% frequently felt fatigued and approximately 9% had high anxiety and depression-symptom levels. Fewer than 2% used medication for anxiety or depression. Approximately 90% of the three cohorts describe their general health as good to very good. Furthermore, subgroups who suffered from an accumulation of different problems were equally distributed among the three cohorts. However young adult women more often suffered from mental health problems than young adult men.

The results are in line with earlier international studies that found few or no indications that students and non-students of the same age were increasingly suffering from mental health problems, and that students do not suffer from mental health problems more often than non-students of the same age.

The results, however, strongly differ from ongoing Dutch media reports suggesting a sharp increase of mental health problems among students especially, alleging that the pressure to perform contributed to this increase. It was outside the aim of the current study to examine this pressure.

Finally, the results indicate that mental health problems among young non-students merit the same level of attention as do the mental health problems that students suffer from.

The study has just been published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Psychiatry Research:  Peter G. van der Velden, Marcel Das, Ruud Muffels (2019), The stability and latent profiles of mental health problems among Dutch young adults in the past decade: a comparison of three cohorts from a national sample. Psychiatry Research, 282.

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