What is it like in the shoes of a student or recent graduate right now?
A never-ending stream of news is constantly pouring new worries and fears upon us. There are wars, the climate crisis, confrontations, offensive discussions, and a recession. The world is horrible and there is a constant feed of bad news.
At the same time, the everyday life of students is a complex clash between studying, working and low income. There is a need to balance the pressure to succeed, produce results in both studies and working life, and take care of the future of the Finnish economy.
A survey of Suomen Ekonomit members (2022) revealed that Business School students across the board want more information and talk about coping and mental health.
And so we research and talk, but clearly talking alone is not enough. We need to raise our voices: we are now issuing a mental health profit warning.
This report compiles facts about the coping and livelihoods of students and young Business School graduates, as well as the economic effects of the crisis of poor well-being. This information should inspire us all to take action for well-being and mental health.
If this same trend continues, young people will be in trouble. And if young people are in trouble, oh, brother – we, the older generation, are just as much so.
Every young person has the right to be well. And Finland needs unbroken Business School graduates. It is high time for all the different operators in society to take the difficulties of young people seriously.
Finally, a few words for both young people and former young people: We older people like to poke at young people’s reckless spending and question their difficulties, as we may see them as just a crowd of partying students or zombies glued to their phones – not their real experiences or feelings. Please listen and try to understand.
Students: Go out and enjoy life. Search for yourself. Make mistakes time and again and be utterly imperfect. Imperfection is educational, and I can promise you that I’ve messed up a lot more than you have. Even Thomas Edison stated that before the invention of the light bulb, he learned 200 ways not to make a light bulb. The worst thing you can do is stay home alone and isolate yourself.
The impact of mental health problems on the Finnish economy
Mental health problems have both direct and indirect effects on the economy. They increase healthcare costs, cause sickness absences and, at worst, lead to incapacity for work. The link to work productivity and employment is also apparent.
As productivity and employment are so strongly linked to mental health, mental health policy needs to be considered as part of economic and employment policy.
The importance of mental health is highlighted in a society that relies on competence and innovation, where the expectations for the individual are high. Good mental health supports coping at work and work productivity.
1/5 experience mental health problems
At least one in fiveFinns experiences mental health problems every year, and as many as one fifth of Finns will develop depression during their lifetime.
1/5 of upper secondary school students are anxious
In a survey commissioned by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL) for upper secondary school students every two years, the number of people experiencing anxiety has been quickly on the rise. When ten years ago about one in ten upper secondary school students experienced moderate to severe anxiety, more than one in five upper secondary school students had a similar experience in 2023.
1/3 of young women are anxious
There is a significant gender gap. Anxiety was experienced by 7.4% of young men, but almost a third of women (30.7%).
Employment rate 30 percentage points lower
The employment rate of people with depression is clearly lower than the rest of the population all across Europe. In Finland, the difference in employment rates is about 30 percentage points. This is a major challenge when aiming for an 80 per cent employment rate at the total population level. In order to achieve this, people with partial work ability also need to be involved in working life.
Unemployment risk 6–7 times higher
According to an OECD study, the risk of unemployment for a person suffering from a severe mental health problem is 6–7 times higher than for the rest of the population, and for a person suffering from a mild or moderate mental health problem it is 2–3 times higher.
1/2 of disability pensions due to mental health problems
In Finland, more than half of all disability pensions are granted due to mental health problems, which means that this issue leaves a significant proportion of people of working age outside the labour force.
5.3% of GDP is spent on mental health costs
This means that in 2022 the costs would have been more than EUR 14 billion. The amount consists of the costs of the labour market and health services, as well as social security.
1/2 fewer mental health problems would solve the sustainability gap
The scale of costs is illustrated by the fact that by halving mental health problems, Finland’s sustainability gap problem could be practically solved.
Business School students’ well-being survey 2023: Almost two out of five students feel mentally unwell
Business School students gave weaker assessments of their mental well-being than working-age Business School graduates in the Suomen Ekonomit well-being survey.
Up to 36% of students are dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with their own mental well-being. The corresponding figure for people of working age is 27%.
Male students are more satisfied with their mental well-being than female students. Almost half of the men are satisfied or very satisfied with their own well-being. Similarly, only about a third of the women are satisfied or very satisfied.
Male students are also more confident about entering working life than female students. Men gave more positive assessments than women on all themes related to working life.
Working alongside their studies challenges students’ mental well-being to some extent, but the differences between full-time students and those working alongside their studies are not great.
However, the open responses showed that the students perceived the fitting together of studies and work to be one of the biggest causes of stress.
“This combination is perceived as so burdensome that there is no time left for social relationships or maintaining physical fitness, which was clearly visible in the open responses,” says Career Coach Sirja Kulmala-Portman from Suomen Ekonomit.
On the other hand, there are significant differences in well-being between students studying different main subjects. At the extremes are the students with finance as their main subject, who gave the best assessments on their well-being, and those with marketing as their main subject, who gave the worst assessments.
The students with finance as their main subject gave the best assessments on all three aspects of well-being, that is, physical, mental and social well-being.
Business School students consider it important across the board that employers invest in well-being at work. For students with management as their main subject, this was particularly important.
Facts about the survey:
- The survey was carried out in autumn 2023. Responses were collected from 5 October to 31 October 2023. 751 Business School students from all over Finland responded to the survey.
- Of the respondents, 67% were women, 32% were men and 1% did not want to define or disclose their gender.
- Half of the respondents were students studying for their Bachelor’s degree and half were studying for their Master’s degree.
- Slightly less than half of the respondents were full-time students and slightly more than half worked either part-time or full-time alongside their studies.
Suomen Ekonomit donated 1 euro to Mieli ry for each person who responded to the survey on the well-being of Business School graduates or students. The donations totaled EUR 3,000. Thank you to the respondents!
Financial peace of mind in jeopardy: higher education graduates may have a loan of more than EUR 30,000
Owning a home is still the Finnish young person’s dream. When a young adult graduates, enters working life and starts acquiring their first home, a student loan may bring an unpleasant surprise.
A student loan is an investment in one’s own competence and employment, and therefore a good part of enabling education. However, the ever-increasing student loan amount also affects the opportunities of a young adult to make smart financial decisions after entering working life, such as buying a first home or building a financial buffer by investing.
Since the current income, expenses, assets and debts are taken into account when granting a loan, student debt may reduce the amount of the mortgage to be granted and limit the options of the homebuyer, especially in the Helsinki Metropolitan Area.
In recent years, students’ livelihoods have become more debt-oriented, and higher education graduates may already have a loan of more than EUR 30,000.
Typically, societal discussions seek to curb households’ indebtedness and create equal opportunities for a good life. As such, it is contradictory how taking out a student loan has been made easy, and incentives have also been created for it. As a result:
- Concerns grow: At the moment, students themselves are clearly more worried than before about not being able to cope with their credits and loans. Nearly one in five students is already worried about coping with loans, according to the Taloudellinen mielenrauha 2023 (Financial Peace of Mind) survey commissioned by Danske Bank.
- Uncertainty rises: Rapidly rising interest rates and higher student loan principal amounts have increased the experience of financial uncertainty, which many students feel is extended for a longer time than just the period of their studies. The realisation of the dream of owning a home is constantly postponed. Since the beginning of the millennium, the average age of first-time homebuyers has increased from less than 28 years to nearly 30 years.
- Inequality increases: The debt-heavy nature of education may also further increase economic inequality. A young person’s chances of accumulating their wealth by acquiring a first home are weakened if the young person’s family is unable to support them financially during their studies or the purchase of an apartment
Then what needs to happen to strengthen young adults’ financial peace of mind?
Political decision-makers must open their eyes to the fact that further emphasising student loans can have difficult long-term effects, which have yet to be assessed to any great extent.
In order to build a sustainable future, it is important to create incentives for the completion of studies within the recommended time periods and to strengthen the employment opportunities of young people, so that studies and, through them, indebtedness do not become prolonged into the long term.
In homes, schools and societal discussions, the financial skills of children and young people must be strengthened by more extensive means, as financial skills are very important for managing one’s own finances.
And each of us must take our finances into our own hands. Long-term planning of one’s own finances, as well as saving and investing, should be started as early as possible during the period of studies. It all comes back around when the purchase of your own home becomes topical.
The pressure is on – young people want to be the future, but can they?
The pressure and responsibility on the shoulders of the younger generation is great. We have been challenged to solve huge societal problems. In the future, our tasks will include, for example, solving the climate crisis and fixing the problems caused by the dependency ratio.
Students are already under a lot of pressure. The target time for graduation creates pressure for studies to progress, approaching deadlines weigh heavy on the mind and social media and the surrounding performance-oriented society create pressure to cope.
Of course, the above list sounds dramatic. If you want to look for a silver lining, it is said that diamonds form under pressure. Students who have received a study place are motivated and driven to progress towards graduation. Many get encouragement from around them and teaching staff help us move forward, even though they often struggle with a shortage of resources.
The concern for our ability to cope is shared by many. But is enough being done to solve it?
Politicians have warned, especially with last spring’s parliamentary elections, that the huge debt burden of the state is falling into the lap of young people.
Despite this, the decisions made by Orpo’s government are now shifting the state’s debt burden onto the shoulders of the younger generation. The student financial aid index will be frozen and housing allowance will be cut. To compensate for these, the amount the government guarantees for a student loan is likely to be increased. As a result, the debt burden on young people will increase. The debt is dumped from the state onto young people.
Weak livelihoods challenge mental health. For students who are doing well financially, poor mental well-being is low at 11 per cent, while for those who have little or uncertain income, the figure is more than double, at 27 per cent.
In the life of a student, concern about having enough money may be constantly present. Every year, students are anxious about
whether they will get a summer job when the demand for summer jobs is huge.
Studies must be progressed at a sufficient pace in order to receive student financial aid. And if graduation is delayed, the financial aid will run out. Cash benefits are only rarely sufficient for basic living, so the majority of students take out a student loan to cover the costs of everyday life. Students usually do not receive income support because a student loan is the primary source of income.
Student indebtedness has increased significantly. The number of student loans has more than doubled since 2017. Graduates with a Master’s degree currently have an average loan of more than EUR 20,000.
At the moment, the planned weakening of students’ livelihoods is very likely to lead to rapid growth in the student loans of recent graduates. It is expected that in the next few years, loan amounts will increase towards EUR 30,000.
Debt of this magnitude does not create confidence in the future for the younger generation. After graduation, it would be wonderful to buy your own apartment or dream of starting a family, but a big loan burden postpones these dreams. Massive student loans reduce the chances of getting a mortgage. In addition, the removal of the transfer tax exemption for first homes directly affects young adults. Together, a student loan and the removal of the tax exemption for a first home can even postpone the purchase of a home by several years.
Confidence in the future is therefore tested even after graduation, but mental health challenges hit especially during studies. Mental health problems have been shown to be more common among higher education students than among the rest of the adult population.
The mental health crisis has been reflected in a significant increase in demand for mental health services at YTHS, and there is no sign of a return to how things were before.
Students now desperately need support for mental health challenges, as well as an increase in the level of student grants.
It is good that Orpo’s government programme recognises mental health challenges and their significance to the individual and society, but concrete measures to tackle them are lacking.
Young people are ready to solve the challenges of the future. However, we need our starting points to be fairer to do it. We need a sufficient income that enables studying and support from mental health services when we need it. Then we can withstand the pressure. Then young people will be the future that society needs.