“Our data corroborates what we see on the ground: the mental health of students has not improved since Covid, quite the contrary,” notes Christophe Tzourio, professor of epidemiology and director of the Health Service (SSU) of the University of Bordeaux until the start of the 2023 school year. “The psychologists and psychiatrists of the CHU and SSU are reporting to us a demand which has intensified, with increasingly complex cases of psychological suffering,” continues the specialist in health of young people.
In 2021, at the end of the Covid-19 pandemic, the world was alerted to a worrying figure: at least one in five young people aged 18 to 24 were “affected by depression”, according to Public Health France. The figures collected by Christophe Tzourio and his colleague Mélissa Macalli, postdoctoral researcher specializing in youth mental health and researcher at Inserm, are even more alarming. For around ten years, they have carried out several in-depth studies on the psychology of Bordeaux students, in which more than 20,000 young people have participated in total. “Before Covid, 25% of them showed symptoms of depression. Over the year 2022-2023, 43% of students were concerned” according to their latest “Prism” study carried out among 2000 young people, explains Mélissa Macalli.
of students say they are affected by symptoms of depression
If the figures differ, the observations of Public Health France confirm the trend. “Mood disorders, suicidal ideas and gestures… Use of emergency care for these reasons increased sharply in 2021 then 2022, and continued significantly in 2023 for 18-24 year olds” explains Ingrid Gillaizeau, head of the Mental Health unit within the national agency. Other indicators illustrate the decline in well-being among part of the student population.
The last of the “Coviprev” points – launched after the pandemic and carried out on samples of 2000 volunteers – published in January 2023, indicates anxiety reached 43% of 18-24 year olds who responded, and suicidal thoughts concern a quarter of between them. The Nightline helpline, which offers students free discussion in cases of anxiety, loneliness or depression 24/7, observes the same dynamic. “The number of calls has been constantly increasing since our creation in 2017,” adds the association: around 20,000 calls were received in 2022-2023, compared to 14,000 the previous year.
“70% say they often or very often feel alone. A quarter said they felt very alone all the time”
After the confinements, we attributed this explosion of unease among young people to the extreme abnormality of the period of global pandemic, which had blurred many benchmarks, placed the fear of contamination on the shoulders of young people, and reinforced the effects of precariousness while student jobs disappeared. Three years later, how can we explain this even more critical situation? “We have hypotheses, but no consensus” indicates Ingrid Gillaizeau.
For Aude Caria, director of Psycom, a public organization information on mental health and combating stigma, other factors weigh on the overall mental health of the population. “We are experiencing an accumulation of crises, health, then geopolitical with Ukraine and now Israel, but also economic and climatic, which make it difficult to plan for a peaceful future, even more so for young people who are very exposed to images that are sometimes extremely violent on the networks, which create both an effect of addiction and astonishment,” judges the psychologist.
These figures should nevertheless be put into perspective, because they could be biased by a rather positive factor. “We also talk more easily today about our mental health, because in recent years we have been experiencing a collective awareness, which has notably changed the taboo for young people. Networks also allow testimonies, or relay through pop culture, in music, art, sport… We have seen it with young athletes like Naomie Osaka or Simone Bail, who talk about their mental state. underlines Aude Caria.
The remains of the pandemic and confinement are nevertheless not trivial, according to specialists from the University of Bordeaux. “Even if we have returned to a normal mode of operation in universities, what really stands out is a return to social contact which remains very difficult, and a deep feeling of solitude,” explains Mélissa Macalli. Among those surveyed, “70% say they often or very often feel alone. A quarter said they felt very alone all the time.”
A constellation of tools to take care of your mental health
Faced with these discouraging figures, mental health stakeholders are betting everything this year on campaigns that focus on prevention and positive actions. Because despite the gradual opening of speech, “young people aged 18-24 are on average less concerned about their mental health or their well-being than their elders”, recalls the national agency in a press release for the start of the 2023 school year. Public Health France publishes in particular on the networks (Youtube, Instagram, Facebook, etc.) a series of “Fild-Good” advice videos to “act positively on your mental health”, focused on physical activity and social activities. and help to others, sleep or even gratitude.
“We have the observation. Now, it is important to provide information on what we can do to take care of ourselves and on the remedies available in the event of discomfort,” says Ingrid Gillaizeau. Nightline is launching the “Head First” campaign, which brings together testimonials and advice from top athletesto lift the stigma around discomfort and take care of your head through sport.
“In terms of mental health, there is no universal solution, only complementary solutions,” comments Aude Caria. “Awareness and support are long-term work, but we are in the process of creating a constellation of tools that young people must use: recourse to a psychologist when necessary, community support lines before getting there, but also all the everyday actions that allow you to maintain your well-being,” she concludes.
At the University of Bordeaux, several cutting-edge tools have been put in place to equip students and staff with knowledge to face this public health issue. “We encourage very active prevention. By conducting the “Prism” study, we offered participants a tool to make them aware of their state of mental health: personalized mental health assessments, indicator by indicator, with psychological advice and resources for each student. adapted premises,” explains Christophe Tzourio.
A great success: university students now want to make it a recurring mental “checkup” tool. More than 1,200 young people and teachers also benefited from the two-day “mental health care” training tested at the University of Bordeaux since the health crisis.
While the cost of the session with a psychologist is also cited as one of the main obstacles for young people, the “Student Psy Health” system, which allows them to benefit from 8 reimbursed sessions with an approved psychologist after having obtained the prescription from a doctor, had once again been extended into 2023. Since 2021, more than 260,000 sessions have been carried out by 52,000 students out of nearly 3 million. Insufficient for associations like Nightline, which consider the need to go through a general practitioner as a barrier, and are still calling for a “real national strategy for student mental health”.