Full-time studies + part-time job = poor mental health

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Ragnhild Gabrielsen

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Trying to work while going to school can be too much stress to handle.

Ragnhild Gabrielsen
Oslo, Norway

Working a part-time job while studying can jeopardize students’ mental health. Combining work and studies takes considerable time and energy and can cause emotional problems.

Most Norwegian university students work while they study, and many students are plagued by symptoms of psychological troubles. The combined percentage of students who had moderate or severe psychological troubles increased significantly from 2010 to 2018 (Fig. 1). Mental problems make it hard for students to pass their courses or graduate on time and endanger students’ psychological health later in life. Many of these problems result from part-time jobs that promote stress, loneliness, and sleep disorders.

Image reproduced from Knapstad, Heradstveit & Sivertsen (2018)
Fig. 1: Percentage of Norwegian university students with psychological troubles, 2010-2018.

Students with part-time employment are more stressed than those who do not work. The pressure of both working and studying is a recipe for tension. For the 30% of students who feel that only the best grades are good enough, the combination is a pressure cooker. Students who have part-time jobs exhibit less vitality and social function than their non-working peers.

Working a part-time job reduces socializing. One of the biggest concerns among working students is not having time for social activities. Spending time with friends, participating in social events, or joining an organization allows students to connect with their fellow students, providing a support network. According to last year’s Students’ Health and Wellbeing Study, conducted at the University of Oslo by Marit Knapstad, Ove Heradstveit, and Børge Sivertsen, the percentage of students experiencing loneliness increased from 5% to 23% between 2010 and 2018. The demands of a part-time job can cause isolation, which promotes feelings of depression and anxiety.

Students with part-time jobs have more difficulties with sleep and suffer from sleep deprivation. Jobs available for students often have evening or night shifts, which when combined with morning lectures lead to lack of sleep or a twisted circadian rhythm: a third of students show symptoms of insomnia and almost half of all students are concerned about their difficulties with sleep. Lack of sleep can lead to mental health problems like fatigue, depression, and increased stress. It is especially difficult to keep a regular sleeping pattern for students who have busy or irregular working schedules.

Some say part-time employment can have a positive effect on students’ academic accomplishments if the job is related to their field of study. However, most students’ jobs are not relevant to their studies. Students reported that relevance to a future career was the least important reason for working part time. Nearly 90% of working students work in stores, cafés, or bars. Students seldom work part-time jobs for the academic benefit, so the positive mental-health effects are minimal.

Studies combined with work leave students with little time and energy to participate in social activities, and the pressure of managing their schedules and priorities leaves them exposed to stress, anxiety, and depression. If students could focus on their studies full-time, their mental health would benefit.

Ragnhild Gabrielsen studies International Relations at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. She works part-time as welfare officer in the student parliament and holds several other elected positions at the university as well. When Gabrielsen is not working or studying, she likes spending time outside, hiking in the woods, or knitting.

The opinions expressed by opinion writers featured in “On the Edge” are not necessarily those of The Norwegian American, and our publication of those views is not an endorsement of them. Comments, suggestions, and complaints about the opinions expressed by the paper’s editorials should be directed to the editor.

This article originally appeared in the September 6, 2019, issue of The Norwegian American.

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