‘Prevent students from worrying on their own’

| Jelle Posthuma

Many students suffer from psychological problems, according to headlines in various news media last week. UT students also experienced feelings of loneliness and isolation during the lockdown, according to student advisors and student psychologists. ‘But we also saw the opposite: some found it wonderfully quiet.’

The campus during the previous lockdown early this year.

A lot of stress, fatigue and excessive alcohol consumption: the results of a national survey into the mental state of students last spring do not paint a very rosy picture. To Annet de Kiewit, study advisor at Mechanical Engineering, the picture is partly recognisable. ‘There is a relationship between the mental state of students and the lockdowns. Some students were more lonely and felt isolated. Since the relaxation of the Covid measures, the situation seems to have improved.’

Caroline van Dijken, head of Student Affairs Coaching & Counselling, also sees a relationship between the corona peaks and the mental state of students. ‘They experience uncertainty, for example financially. There is also less contact with fellow students.’ Many of these students do not immediately find their way to the student psychologists, Van Dijken states. According to her, it is reflected in the postponement requests for the BSA and MoMi. ‘Some students needed more time to finish their studies successfully.’


Despite the recognition, Van Dijken and De Kiewit want to refine the picture painted. ‘We also saw the opposite’, says Van Dijken. Students sometimes thought it was wonderfully peaceful. They had no ‘fomo’ (fear of missing out, ed.) for parties and social activities. Their study results improved a lot.’ Moreover, not all negative feelings are immediately problematic, says Van Dijken. ‘Ordinary stress is not a problem, it’s part of life. Everyone has experienced difficult moments during their studies.’

De Kiewit, who herself co-authored a well-being study among students at the UT, makes another comment on the national study. ‘There may be a certain bias. Students with mental problems are more inclined to take part in such a study. That affects the results.’ Van Dijken and De Kiewit emphasise that they want to refine the picture, not downplay it. ‘The study definitely is a wake-up call: it is a serious problem that has been around for a long time.’


Even before the corona crisis, there were clear signs of mental problems, especially among international students. ‘The safety net for this group is different’, says Van Dijken. ‘They can’t just turn to family or friends. Delaying their studies is often not an option for this group. Covid has made the situation for international students even more complicated.’

According to De Kiewit, there is an image that international students do not know their way to student advisors or student psychologists. ‘But that is not the case. We actually see a lot of international students.’ The UT has also launched several initiatives to help this group, says Van Dijken. ‘A lot has been set in motion in recent years. Think of the Student Union’s ‘look after your friends’ training courses and the ‘are you okay’ campaign. There is also a stress management course provided by the student psychologists.’ This does not solve the problem immediately, De Kiewit acknowledges. ‘If there was a simple solution, we would have done it a long time ago.’

New lockdown?

In the meantime, The Netherlands is in a new ‘mild’ lockdown. With the recent Covid figures, relaxations seem a long way off. De Kiewit and Van Dijken hope for the sake of the students – and in fact for everyone – that the ‘normal’ situation will return as soon as possible. ‘There is a big difference with last spring: education will continue physically for the time being –although the maximum group size did come as a surprise.’

This winter period, with possible lockdowns, students will therefore have to monitor their mental health closely. According to Van Dijken, it is all about balance. ‘If that is really lost, then it is time to look for help. It is always a great search to find this group of students in time. The most important thing is that people don’t just sit around worrying on their own. There is help at the UT.’

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