By Lieselotte Oudega
— With the final capstone deadline approaching, the last exams and deadlines being prepared and the question of what to do next year echoing in their head, there is a big chance that depression will be looming around the third-years at Amsterdam University College (AUC). It turns out that these feelings are tormenting almost half of the students at AUC and more than a third of all students in the Netherlands. Shocked by this number, scientists, universities, and students joined hands and decided that a new action-plan had to be created to improve the mental health of students in the Netherlands – something that can certainly be improved at AUC as well.
New research recently investigated depression among students in the Netherlands and discovered that one in seven students is even suffering from heavy anxiety and depression. Rhea van der Dong, chairwoman of the Interstedelijk Studenten Overleg (ISO) and fellow founder of the new action-plan, explains that these depressive feelings are caused partly by the changing educational system, which requires students to graduate faster and do more, and this media-saturated generation, that uses social media as their mirror.
At AUC, Vinika Porwal, the Student Life Officer, recognizes these mental health issues among the students. “Being a student has become harder,” Porwal said. She added that being a student has become more expensive, more of a competition and has become faster. “It is a double-edged sword, students are invested and passionate which is good but also results in more stress,” Porwal said.
Out of 180 students that Porwal talked to last year, she identified one out of five to be suffering from depressive feelings. A recent survey conducted through AUC’s excellent and diverse Facebook group with a hundred responses showed even higher numbers. Half of the students indicate that they are suffering with moderate depressive feelings and 12 percent are suffering from heavy depressive feelings. A great majority of these students said that these feelings began or have become worse since the moment they started at AUC.
Thirza Buijkz, a second-year Humanities student and board member of Peer Support, recognizes the huge number of people with depressive feelings at AUC. She believes it to be an interplay between the students’ stage of life, social media and the extreme pressure to succeed. “We have a climate where you don’t feel good enough if you fail to get an eight or higher,” said Buijkz. The importance of this factor in the mental wellbeing of the AUC students is confirmed by the survey where 27.9% indicate the pressure to succeed and 29.5% indicate that the workload definitely attributes to their depressive feelings.
The most striking number that pops out in the survey is that 65% of AUC students have never visited a psychologist for their complaints during their time at AUC. It appears that the problem at AUC is a significant one, but a solid solution seems to be lacking. Peer Support is busy creating awareness and making the topic of depression more transparent. Although Peer Support organizes weekly ‘Tea talks’ and Porwal’s door is always open for every student, Buijkz and Porwal both agree that still so much can be improved with regard to mental health at AUC. Both point out that AUC has over nine hundred students and only one student life officer. “Other UCs also have one student life officer, but for fewer students,” Buijkz said.
The action-plan will strive to fight depression among students and focus on creating nationwide awareness and getting universities equipped to not only acknowledge but also tackle the problem. “Last year there was still a lot of skepticism regarding this topic,” said van der Dong who already recognizes the progress. “Right now, it is an important topic in the national agenda and also universities are joining in,” van der Dong said.
How could AUC specifically try to fight depression? Porwal believes that one of the obstacles is that students aren’t specifically being introduced to the symptoms of depression. “They only learn about their mental health in a more general way”, Porwal said. Creating more awareness would, thus, be a first step, accepting the problem is a second one. “People don’t think that their problem is great enough to go to a psychologist, they don’t acknowledge it,” said Buijkz.
In some cases, depression can simply not be prevented, so tools must be available to help fight it. This is the last but certainly not least step in the action-plan that can be improved at AUC as well. Both Porwal and Buijkz believe that making room for a psychologist at AUC would be a great improvement. “This way we lower the barrier,” Porwal said. A true solution does not exist, but creating awareness, ensuring acceptance and providing help are all steps in the right direction. “It’s a broad problem,” van der Dong said, “so it needs a broad plan.”
Photo credit: Esperanza / Hope to Cope
Editor’s note: This news story is part of a collaboration between The Herring and AUC’s journalism course. The story was entirely reported, written, edited, and fact checked by members of the journalism course. Some material may have been altered by The Herring’s editors to fit its style guidelines.