Student mental health: “The government has one year left to act”

More than a year after the start of the first confinement and while a second student year under Covid-19 is coming to an end, what assessment can we draw from the support by the public authorities and associations of students weakened by the crisis sanitary? Three players in the field of mental health take stock in this forum, signed by Florian Tirana, president of the Nightline France association, a free listening service by and for students, Doctor Dominique Monchablon, psychiatrist, head of department at the Fondation Santé des Etudiants de France France and consultant to ESCP-Europe and Didier Meillerand, president of Psychodon.

Nearly 3 million French students have put their student life under cover over the past year. No more face-to-face lessons, integration evenings and group reviews. The sanitary measures got the better of a way of life based on exchange, sharing and social ties.

A sudden stop in socialization

In March 2020, most of these young individuals found themselves facing an accumulation of unprecedented stressors: an upheaval in learning conditions and the university timetable, distance education which weakened the morale of confined students. , not to mention the worsening of financial insecurity linked to job loss and the uncertainty for students at the end of their course of being hired in certain fields. Finally, the latter were brutally deprived of socialization and a support network which usually form the spice of student life.

As a result, the crisis has dramatically increased the level of psychological distress, from 20% in 2016 to 31% in September 2020 according to the National Observatory for Student Life (OVE). What responses have the public authorities given to this societal issue which affects the working people of tomorrow? What role have associations and health professionals played and what future prospects does the crisis give?

A worsening of student distress

If the pandemic has accelerated the prevalence of anxiety or depressive disorders among students, this psychological distress, like the lack of devices to respond to it, had already been singled out by health professionals for years. On the one hand, the preventive medicine approach for young people has remained, until now, very generalist, and mental health has never been treated as the number one issue by successive governments.

On the other hand, the student population has long been more prone to anxiety and depressive disorders than the rest of its age group, cumulating several stress factors (increased selectivity, mobility imposed for all courses, massification in courses, etc.) .

The novelty is that it is today subject to a paradoxical tension between, on the one hand, an individual fragility and on the other, a demand for collective performance which did not dry up during the crisis.

However, since March 2020, most students have not always had the reflex, sufficient resources or the right contacts to get help. In addition, the first government responses for student mental health were not announced until December 2020, nine months after the start of the health crisis. These initiatives have nevertheless been the first operational responses in the area of ​​student mental health for several decades.

An improvised mobilization

Faced with growing demand, the psychological care structures dedicated to students have come together and reorganized in complementarity to meet the needs of everyone in an emergency. Studies to identify the proportion of students going to see a psychologist and the time taken to obtain answers have been carried out. It emerges that 1 psychologist is deployed for 30,000 students while the recommendations are more of the order of 1 in 1,500.

A crisis that made it possible to innovate

Psychological and psychiatric care structures (sector services, care structures reserved for students, associations, etc.) have also been called upon at the local level to receive students quickly. The CROUSs and the municipalities were able to lend a hand to arrive at an updated mapping of healthcare systems in Paris. The students were able to benefit from strong social support (meals at 1 euro, temporary free rents in the Crous residence, food aid, etc.). A peer-help system – embodied by the Nightline platform, has also been strengthened.

The crisis has allowed a historic mobilization of professionals and a creative complementarity. As the students could no longer travel, it was therefore consultation that came to them, thanks to teleconsultation; a consultation model that complements traditional monitoring. Also, it made it possible to bring together a public who had hesitated until then to call the shrink and remotely follow problematic situations or adapting to student mobility on a national or international scale.

Concrete solutions

All the measures hastily implemented and limited to the timeframe of the crisis should limit the psychological and social impact on students. But it is becoming urgent to carry out a profound restructuring of the health system dedicated to students.

Thus, if the psychiatric check was a breath of fresh air, the three consultations renewable once and the 80 recruitments of psychologists in university service are insufficient. On the peer-support side, the government’s initiative to recruit 20,000 student tutors is to be welcomed. However, these students must be trained in this health watch, in particular through first aid in mental health, and also that they know how to redeploy information. Finally, we are supporting a massive and lasting strengthening of the resources granted to the psychological support services available to students. The government has one year left to act.