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Covid-19 increased students’ mental health challenges — Diak innovates new services

There has been a strong increase in mental health problems among students during the pandemic.

“Diak has long been a strong player and pioneer in the provision of student welfare services among Finnish higher education institutions. However, at Diak, the challenges of reaching students, as well as the anxiety associated with studying during the prolonged pandemic, have also been on display this autumn,” says Student Counsellor Tiina Ikonen, working at the student interface.

Diak took action right after the pandemic broke out to safeguard the well-being and mental health of students. An already well-functioning system of student welfare was helpful when the pandemic hit the society.

“In Diak, we already had exceptionally extensive services for student welfare before the pandemic. On each of our five campuses operates a student welfare working group to plan and monitor the situation of each campus. Students and stakeholders such as educational deacons and representatives of Finnish Student Health Service, FSHS, are also included in these groups,” tells Director of Services Johanna Lammi, responsible for the student welfare activities of Diak.

Student wellbeing remains not just a matter for teachers, study guidance counselors and student counsellors in Diak, but new ways to improve it are also created and experimented within the development and innovation services. Diak and its partners have received significant funding from the Ministry of Education and Culture and the European Social Fund (ESF) for projects supporting student welfare.

“These projects bring additional resources to student welfare work. They have created and trialled support models for students as well as teaching and guidance staff. The projects involve students as well. The operational models developed and tested in the projects will be integrated into the basic activities of Diak once the projects are completed,” says Elina Ylikoski, Diak’s Director of Innovations.

Student unions also play an important role in student welfare. Diak’s student union, O’Diako, has two projects underway to support student welfare, and it works closely with Diak’s support services.

“Students are more widely reached through the student body. We have developed student activities during the pandemic for Discord. A new service for student wellbeing work is the “Ask the Student Counsellor (Kysy kuraattorilta) channel started with Diak at Discord,” says Juha-Pekka Tulijoki, Executive Director of O’Diako.

Also other low-threshold ways have also been developed at Diak during the pandemic to enable the student to seek assistance.

“Last spring, we sent each of our students a traditional postcard to try to maintain their study motivation and tell them where to get help if the studies are tangling. This small gesture drew a lot of praise from students, Ms. Lammi says.

In addition, digital and multi-channel ways to reach students have been created at Diak. Digital services have been developed in a human-centric manner and in conjunction with young people through Diak’s project activities.

“An example of this is the new online tool Zekki for young people, which can also be found in the students’ mobile app Tuudo. Zekki encourages reflection on one’s well-being and directs low-threshold services,” Ms. Ylikoski tells.

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