‘Covid magnifies existing problems'

| Jelle Posthuma

The second lockdown is having a severe impact, also on UT students. At the campus general practitioner's office, they notice that too. ‘There are few patients who don't mention the influence of Covid.’

The lockdown particularly affects the mental health of students, says Saskia Schipper, mental health practitioner on campus. ‘It's not as if we see more people than usual in our practice. Winter is always a busy period. But we do see that the lockdown magnifies existing complaints.’

According to Schipper, students especially miss the distractions of their ‘day-to-day' lives. ‘If you have social commitments, you remain in motion. Now students sit at home. On days like that, you are confronted with your own fears and worries. Moreover, there is little structure to the day. Some students stay in bed, which increases their gloomy feelings. Especially when you're anxious or worried, it's important to go outside, to crawl out of your shell.’

Nationwide survey

Many a student has a tough time during this hard lockdown. This is also evident from the survey published last week by the national student organisation ISO. One in three students rates his life with a negative score. One in five has started drinking more, one in ten uses drugs more and another 12 percent does both. At the same time, the research shows that students continue to adhere (very) well to the corona measures. 99% of the students surveyed went into quarantine after a positive test result, while the national average is 72%.

Campus doctor Cees Jansen agrees with this view. ‘By avoiding fears, for example, fear of failure can increase. Young people also look for other distractions, such as gaming, which can have negative effects as well. I notice that there are many students who isolate themselves in their rooms and therefore feel lonely. I often ask students whether they are lonely. Very few of them say "no". Especially the current freshmen have made a false start. This academic year, the introduction was partly cancelled. While you make friends during the introduction period. That is very important. I also met my best friend in the first weeks of my study.’


Even before the corona crisis, UT students were struggling with stress, depression or anxiety. Research by the UT has shown that a third of the students who had complaints experienced them as moderate to severe. ‘To be honest, we think the percentage is even higher,' says Jansen. 'These complaints are intensified during the crisis. The relationship between the complaints and the crisis is undeniable. There are hardly any patients who do not mention the influence of Covid.’

The UT study also showed that international students more often suffer from mental health problems than Dutch students. According to Schipper, the problems of international students are usually more serious. ‘This is something we see again during this crisis. Moreover, students from certain parts of the world have an enormous fear of the coronavirus. They prefer to stay at home as much as possible and only want to make video calls, for example. Yet I prefer to see them in person. I already said: especially when you are anxious or depressed, it is good to go outside.’

Another problem is that many international students have limited insurance, Schipper knows. ‘With their insurance they are eligible for nine treatments. We often can't refer them to specialist mental health care, while that is sometimes really necessary. Some therapists won't even accept them, because it has led to payment problems in the past. They therefore stay in our practice. We don't want to leave them to their fate.’ Jansen has already expressed concern about the mental health problems of international students in the past. During the lockdown, foreign students face additional problems, he says. ‘They can no longer travel, for example. For these students, it literally feels as if their lives have come to a standstill.’

Way out

According to Jansen and Schipper, there are no ready-made solutions for mental health problems. But students can certainly do something to improve their mental state. According to Schipper, it starts with a healthy lifestyle. She also advises to see the corona crisis in perspective. ‘You should ask yourself: what is still possible? And remember that even this lockdown will not last forever.’

A buddy can also help, says Jansen. Schipper agrees. ‘For example, ask a fellow student who is used to getting up early to wake you up, so you can bring structure back into the day. And don't forget: students can always come to us or to the student psychologists for help.’

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