National study: many students suffer from mental health issues

More than half of students (51 percent) at research universities and universities of applied sciences suffered from mental health issues over the past year.

These are the results of a large study set up by the GGD Nederland, the RIVM, and the Trimbos institute.

They interviewed approximately 28,000 students between March and May of this year, during the third wave of the pandemic. The study’s findings are unequivocal: three out of four students experience pressure to excel, nearly 70 percent suffers from exhaustion, and 80 percent feels lonely.

Many students have problems sleeping (41 percent), half of them report psychological issues (12 percent of them serious), and more than one in four (26 percent) reported sometimes wanting to die.


These complaints aren’t new, and the researchers say that the mental health of students has been a topic of concern for some time. It’s clear that the pandemic isn’t the sole reason, but Covid has exacerbated the problems; the percentages are much higher than those of previous studies. ‘It’s at an all-time low’, they say. 

The study into students’ mental health will be repeated over the next few years. The researchers want to know if and how much the Covid-19 crisis will continue to impact students’ mental health.

Alcohol and drugs

The researchers also asked about the use of alcohol and narcotics. Nearly half of students drank less during the third wave of the pandemic, while a third of MDMA users took fewer drugs. Reason for this was the fact that clubs and pubs were closed and many events were cancelled. 

Nevertheless, 13 percent of students used MDMA last year, and one in six are heavy drinkers, with women drinking at least four glasses of alcohol once a week, and men six. A third of students occasionally smokes cannabis. Of these, 30 percent say the pandemic has made them smoke more.


Student organisations are shocked by the latest numbers. Lisanne de Roos with the Intercity Student Consultation (ISO): ’It’s alarming to see how many students are struggling to keep their head above water.’ Looking at this report, no one would be able to argue that only a handful of students have mental health issues, the ISO says.

Ama Boahene with the National Students Union (LSVb) says: ‘Being a student is supposed to be about personal development, but the opposite is happening: students are buckling under the pressure.’

Loans system

The LSVb says that education institutes and politicians should do more to boost students’ mental health. ‘Structural issues like the pressure to excel, loneliness, and the loans system need to be dealt with.

Outgoing education minister Van Engelshoven responded to the study, saying she’ll discuss the results ‘most urgently’ with students, educational institutes, the public health service, and the researchers.

The report in its entirety is available on the Trimbos institute website.

If you’re thinking about suicide or if you’re worried about someone, talking can help. You can start a chat at or call them at 113 or 0800-113. Everything is anonymous.


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