In total, the number of UT students reporting psychological problems increased last academic year, from 254 cases to 315. At the same time, the UT psychologists can’t treat any new students because the team is understaffed. Although they do see a clear sign of ‘more pressure on students’.
More pressure from all sides
It’s clear for student psychologists Hans Feiertag and Caroline de Koning: from all sides students are put under more pressure the last couple of years. ‘It’s absolutely a combination of several factors,’ Feiertag knows. ‘Not only by the Dutch government, but also by the UT itself. Because of an almost simultaneous introduction of both the Dutch student loan system and the Twente Education Model, students have a lot more on their plate.’
De Koning adds to her colleague’s words: ‘There’s more pressure, especially for first year students, but also through an entire bachelor’s programme. Having to get your BSA (binding recommendation) of 45 ECTS for instance and the societal pressure of having to excel. It gets in the way of relaxation. We see it affects things like sports, activism and social get-togethers.’
According to Feiertag, the social aspect especially is an extra decisive factor, because of social media. ‘They put a strain on the self-image of young people. Social media make you feel the urge to look better, compared to ten years ago. Besides, we notice that social media create fear of missing out.’
The comments of the UT psychologists are in line with national reporting on this topic. After research within the Windesheim University of Applied Sciences – 15 percent of their students suffer from severe cases of anxiety and depression – the network Studentenwelzijn arose. That network came up with a plan in which it pleads to ‘integrally tackle’ the problem, including focusing on awareness and prevention.
Nip problems in the butt
That’s also what Student Affairs Coaching & Counselling (SACC) wants to focus on, De Koning and Feiertag say. ‘Recently we hosted four workshops about stress prevention. Those were packed, which says a lot,’ says De Koning. Feiertag adds: ‘That’s why we want to continue giving these workshops. It’s good to lower the threshold and talk about personal problems. The earlier you spot something and the earlier you notify us about these problems, the bigger the odds that we can nip them in the butt.’
That was also the reason for SACC to have a new intake procedure and, according to the psychologists, it helped. Before, in peak periods, the waiting time could mount up to more than six weeks. Last year, students received a so-called quick scan talk, usually within a week. Those talks were meant to look at the best way to support the students.
The psychologists are also positive about the internal chain approach. De Koning: ‘Study advisors within the programmes are usually the first ones to respond. And the transition period after two colleagues left is almost over. Soon, two new colleagues will start and we’ll have enough capacity to personally aid students, instead of merely referring them to other professionals.’
That should help to relieve the pressure on the own organization. But according to the psychologists, the pressure on students – especially internationals – is still unabated. ‘You’re from a different culture, so adjusting to a new one takes some effort,’ Feiertag says. ‘And you’re usually in the role of smartest person within your family so you feel like you have to prove yourself for the people back home. Add to that the financial aspect: usually there are strings attached to a scholarship. For instance, you have to get your diploma within the set amount of time.’
And Feiertag states that the health care insurance for international students is a problem. ‘Also for these students, we’re only able to consult them five times individually. Should any more consultation moments be necessary, they’re only reimbursed minimally. To help these students out more, we’re planning to start hosting support groups.’
Feiertag and De Koning see their own and national numbers as a clear sign. ‘Especially regarding the societal developments,’ De Koning states. ‘Inherent to the stage of life students are in, is that the pressure is there anyway. You’re in a phase where you have to make important decisions and experience a lot within a short amount of time. But it’s important that students know that they can talk about their problems and that we are there to help anyway we can.’