ON CAMPUS INVESTIGATION : TSE students’ mental health

This year, The TSEconomist had the idea to create a new format of articles : the “On Campus Investigations”. These articles will focus on issues that are specific to the TSE community. We will interview students and staff members, conduct surveys about the issues we feel are the most pressing on our campus. The first article we chose to write, in these difficult times, is an article about the students’ mental health. This format is meant to give a voice to members of the student body, so do not hesitate to react to the article by sending us an email (the.tseconomistmail.com).

Our reflection started with some conversations we had with our friends about their mental health. The majority felt overwhelmed and a sense of anxiety was in the air. The idea thus germinated in our minds. Of course, the lockdown in March did not help, and when we saw the interview of Nicolas Tili (Magazine UT1C, 2020) about how to support students with their mental health, we decided to conduct our own investigation. 

The Population

We created a qualitative survey to be able to grasp the students’ mood. This survey is not intended to be interpreted econometrically. It was not designed to answer an economic problem but only to give students the opportunity to express themselves. We gathered 68 responses, 70.6% were from female students, 25% from male students, 1.5% others and 2.9% preferred not to say. This illustrates the bias of our study. First, people who are concerned by the issue of mental health are probably more likely to answer such a survey. Second, female students were apparently more concerned by it than male students. This needs to be kept in mind, as female students declare being more anxious and depressed than males (Strenna et al., 2009). Ages ranged from 18 to 27, with a majority between 19 and 24. 91.1% of respondents were in L3, M1 or M2, which makes sense since they constitute the majority of TSE students. As previously stated, we cannot generalize these results to the whole TSE-student population.

The Overall State of Mind

The first set of questions asked sought to understand the overall mood of the students who responded. It appeared that, out of 68 respondents, 24 feel overwhelmed by their studies most of the time. This confirms our intuition. No respondent answered that they always feel calm and peaceful, but 27 are calm and peaceful most of the time, and 25 once in a while. 

The next set of questions was about mental health support: 22.1% of respondents have seen a therapist in recent years, and 73.1% think that they would benefit from mental health support. When asked why, the majority (79.6%) describes a state of stress. Others mention a feeling of isolation (40.8%) , confusion (32.7%), depression (28.6%), relationship issues (28.6%). 

Online Classes

We wanted to assess whether online classes had an impact on their mental health. 75% answered that this was the case and most of them mentioned a feeling of isolation, which makes sense in view of our previous results. Others also mentioned a certain lack of motivation, difficulties to focus, or to create a routine. The inability to connect with other students also seems to be an exacerbating factor.

The Impact of Studies at TSE

Other questions were meant to assess whether students associated their angst with their studies and/or with the school. The studies in themselves do not seem to be an issue at first, as 51.5% stated that they like their studies a lot, 36.8% like them a bit, and only 10.3% do not really like them, and 1.5% do not like them at all. However, 31 students strongly agree to the statement “my studies have been a source of stress”, and 23 agree. When asked to rate the statement “I have felt overwhelmed by my studies during the past 2 months”, 25 strongly agree and 21 agree. Their feelings about TSE seemed to be mitigated. 

To dig further, we asked students if they had already thought of leaving TSE. 55.9% replied that they had. When asked why, replies seemed to tend towards the same feelings : they feel a lot of pressure from the school and there is a major impostor syndrome amongst students, “the feeling that your achievements are not real or that you do not deserve praise or success” (Cambridge dictionary) . One respondent thinks that the school would need to create a more comfortable and reassuring environment, they add:

“Resilience towards pressure and the ability to work fast without really understanding what you’re doing seems to be valued more than conscious and critical reflection of the course contents.”

Several students believe that TSE’s way of teaching is meant to give grades that are not too high to encourage students to work harder, but it does not seem to have the expected effect. Indeed, some of them have a feeling of failure when it comes to their studies, which contributes to the spread of the generalised impostor syndrome.

We asked the respondents if they had any comment to add to the survey. These comments were overall very negative. This may be due to the fact that the people who added a comment were also the ones with stronger feelings about the survey. However, we still think that these testimonies can help TSE improve their way of teaching, their organisation, and their support system towards students. Several students noted a lack of time to assimilate the notions that are taught :

“I would better like to start earlier or to finish later in order to have more time to understand notions and not only master them enough to succeed at the exams.”

Others regret the lack of school spirit, they do not feel like they belong to a community. Others do not feel supported by the staff. Once again, they feel considered as “stupid”, “not smart enough”. 

“ TSE is actually a great school when you look at what it teaches you, but you need to have a level of resilience which I think isn’t necessary to make you intellectually better. I had to leave for one year in Erasmus to discover that my opinion and ideas weren’t dumber than others, and to convince myself that I belong there.”

Discussion

Even though our survey is probably biased, this new format gave a platform for students to express their opinion. The main finding of the article is a prevalent impostor syndrome in students’ minds. Respondents do not feel good enough for TSE and they feel like the staff do not care about them if they are not ranked at the top of the class. They also feel overwhelmed by their studies, which leads to  increased, and unhelpful, pressure.
The economics schools are part of an elitist system with a sustained rhythm, competition between students and, often, pressure from the professors. All these stressors can sometimes be added to personal problems and are aggravated by the isolation from the lockdown. However, TSE students do not seem to be an isolated case. Indeed, French students are currently facing a pressure to perform better than their peers, to be able to compete in an uncertain future job market (Estingoy et al., 2013). Estingoy et al. show that about one in five students have a very low score of self-esteem, and that 10% declare having had suicidal thoughts or projects.

The lockdown and predominance of online classes also had an impact on respondents’ mental health, triggering a feeling of isolation and difficulties to focus. We should not forget that suicide is the second cause of mortality of young people in France (Le Monde, 2019), and the global context is, quite likely, participating to this rise of suicidal thoughts in students’ minds.
The sanitary crisis has a non-negligible impact on students’ mental health. Due to the uncertainty of the global context, students have difficulties to anticipate the future, to set up future projects, and to think about their professional situation (Brut, 2020). Brut also mentions the impact of the lack of socialization. The L1 students have difficulties making new friends and socializing with people they cannot meet, and students who graduated did not have the ritual of a proper graduation with exams onsite and are also anxious about finding a job in this context. 

Estingoy et al. underline the need for a prevention policy, in their 2013 article. Thus, if we consider that the 2020 global situation is worse than in 2013, we can say that students need this type of policy more than ever. So then, what can TSE do?
First of all, TSE can communicate better about the mental health support system already in place. You can make an appointment with a psychiatrist or psychologist at the Simpps (Service interuniversitaire de médecine préventive et de promotion de la santé). The Federal University of Toulouse also offers until December 20, 2020, the Happsy Line, online psychological consultations in English and Spanish for international students.
Additionally, professors could help students feel more supported, especially the ones who need academic help the most. It could also soften the feeling of competition. Students also seem to need more time to assimilate the notions taught in class. Finally, the creation of a school spirit seems more than needed, especially now that students have difficulties socializing. 

By Eloïse Martin

References

Cambridge Dictionary, n.d. «IMPOSTOR SYNDROME». https://dictionary.cambridge.org/fr/dictionnaire/anglais/impostor-syndrome 

Brut, 2020. « Quel impact a la crise sanitaire sur la santé mentale des étudiants ? ». https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trsHSQTKCGo&feature=youtu.be 

Estingoy, P., Fort, E., Normand, J., D’Amato, T. , 2013. « Psychological vulnerabilities among students: Two surveys about mental health at the University Lyon 1 » Annales Médico-psychologiques, revue psychiatrique, Volume 171, Issue 6, Pages 397-398. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0003448713001650?casa_token=GvnMgB0acJ4AAAAA:gEG0G0OUaGgE0lp6wPwz8_1Z1ev5NPKlL1BnunWTn2kGet8-c0Ukv8eCx6SeriDJ_xEXQ6uUmkjy 

Magazine UT1C, 2020. « Dépression, anxiété, addiction : mieux accompagner les étudiants français ». https://magazine.ut-capitole.fr/depression-anxiete-addiction-mieux-accompagner-les-etudiants-francais-880615.kjsp?RH=1364486245078 

Strenna,L., Chahraoui, K., Vinay, A. 2009. « Psychological well-being of first year business school students: The links between stress generated from choosing a professional orientation, self-esteem and coping». https://journals.openedition.org/osp/1902

Université Fédérale Toulouse Midi-Pyrénées, 2020. « LE SERVICE INTERUNIVERSITAIRE DE MÉDECINE PRÉVENTIVE ET DE PROMOTION DE LA SANTÉ (SIMPPS) ». https://welcomedesk.univ-toulouse.fr/le-service-interuniversitaire-de-m-decine-pr-ventive-et-de-promotion-de-la-sant-simpps#tab-0-1 

  • SOS Amitié : Service d’écoute destiné à accueillir la parole de celles et ceux qui, à un moment de leur vie, traversent une période difficile.
    Tél. : 01 42 96 26 26 (Ile-de-France).
  • Suicide Ecoute : Ecoute des personnes confrontées au suicide.
    Tél. : 01 45 39 40 00

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