Students’ experiences of psychosocial problems in higher education: “Climbing Mount Adversity”

Publikation: KonferencebidragPaperForskningpeer review


This paper focus on students’ experiences of psychosocial problems and of how these problems become significant related to ideas of how to be a student of higher education. Over the last decade, the numbers of young people with mental health problems (e.g. stress, anxiety, and depression) have increased considerably in the western countries (Meriläinen & Kuittinen, 2014, Ibrahim et al. 2013, Collins & Mowbray, 2005, Megivern et al. 2003). In the Nordic countries, mental health problems are currently the predominant health concern with respect to young people (Kolouh Söderlund & Lagerkranz 2016). Students of higher education, too, suffer from mental health problems: International research documents that on average one in five students experience some mental health problem during their time of study – some studies even report numbers as high as one in three students (ibid., Storrie et al, 2010). At the same time, students experiencing psychosocial problems often meet the attitude in educational contexts that, when experiencing this type of problems, they are not suited for university at all; probably they are struggling (partly) because they are not adequately qualified. Experiencing psychosocial problems seems understood as antithetical to prevalent, culturally normative ideas of normal or proper students of higher education. The paper departs from two students’ stories of psychosocial problems, struggles and successes. Their stories and perspectives on who and what, inside and outside of education, have challenged and helped them “climb Mount Adversity” and complete higher education, work as my entry point and exemplary cases (Flyvbjerg 2006) for discussing our general research findings. The presentation captures insights from our broader analyses of students’ ‘thick descriptions’ of inclusion, exclusion and the questioning of their identity as students (Wulf-Andersen & Larsen 2020). I discuss how their experience could be starting point for understanding and imagining students of higher education differently. The paper’s empirical basis is a longitudinal qualitative research project, the Student Life Project (2018–21), following students in Danish higher education with a range of psychosocial problems. Theoretically, the project builds on critical educational research and critical research into mental health. 50 students were followed by the research team over a period of six to eighteen months, in several rounds of in-depth interviewing, exploring students’ specific experience of psychosocial problems and educational contexts (current and previous), their broader everyday life, social networks and self-understandings. Furthermore, we have asked students to point out a place of importance to them and 8 visited the place with them. These visits widen and deepen the field of attention and bring sensuous experience to the fore


KonferenceWhat does it mean to be a contemporary higher education student?
LokationUniversity of Surrey (online)
AndetBeing a higher education student is an increasingly common experience across the world, with participation rates at or above 50 per cent in many nations. Nevertheless, there is relatively little debate about what being a contemporary higher education student actually means. While stereotypes of students are regularly deployed in the media and, in countries where high fees are charged, assumptions are frequently made about students becoming more ‘consumer-like’ in their orientation – empirical evidence is often solely lacking. This conference aims to redress this omission by exploring understandings of contemporary higher education students.<br/><br/>The conference is being organised by the ‘Eurostudents’ research team (Rachel Brooks, Achala Gupta, Sazana Jayadeva and Anu Lainio).

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