7 October 2016 • Door HOP, Bas Belleman
Family caregiving has significant impact on students
One in six students takes care of a sick family member. But this is not without consequences, as these students are more likely to suffer from mental health problems like depression or anxiety.
This was the result of a study conducted among students of the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences and Windesheim University of Applied Sciences. Students who care for family members experience study delays more often and, consequently, are more likely to consider dropping out of their degree programme.
Researcher Jolien Dopmeijer warns that more and more students will be assuming responsibility for care tasks. The government encourages people to first turn to family members and neighbours before asking for professional help.
Dopmeijer received a doctoral grant from Minister Bussemaker for her study into academic success and mental health problems. The figures on family caregivers are derived from this study. Dopmeijer conducted research among more than 5,000 Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences students and more than 1,300 students enrolled at Windesheim.
Nearly half of family caregiving students has psycho-social problems, compared to more than 40 percent of other students. In other words, there are a large number of students with mental health problems, whether or not related to informal care, emphasises Dopmeijer. ëEducational institutions do not fully realise the extent of this problem. There are student psychologists available to students, but the services provided are insufficient to address this growing problem.í
Moreover, students are hesitant to ask for help. She believes this is due in part to the ëachievement climateí. ëEveryone needs to graduate as soon as possible or take out a huge student loan. On top of that pressure, students are also at an age when peer pressure is prevalent. Few dare to say: Iím not going to drink any beer today because Iím feeling down.í
The difference between family caregivers and other students is particularly pronounced at the Windesheim University of Applied Sciences in Zwolle. ëPerhaps the figures show a difference between the Western and Eastern Netherlands,í says Dopmeijer. ëI donít have any scientific proof for this, but it is more customary in the eastern part of the country for families and church communities to care for one another. So it is harder to say ìnoî in such communities. On the other hand, the western part of the country is home to a variety of non-Western cultures in which it is also very common to care for family members.í
The mental health problems were identified through a survey. This is not the same as making a diagnosis, says Dopmeijer. ëSome students may be in the process of mourning a death. But the symptoms are being experienced all the same. We use the same screening tools as used around the world.í
Dopmeijer believes that more attention should be devoted to the mental health problems of students and, in particular, the problems experienced by students caring for a family member. ëI began studying this topic when I was personally coaching a student caregiver.