By Miles Henderson
– In a survey of undergraduates from nine University Colleges in the Netherlands, around half of all respondents stated that they were either diagnosed with a mental health condition, believed themselves to have one, or were unsure.
Conducted during finals period last December, the survey was the result of an initiative by the UCSRN executive board and was organised by Victoria Mai, a second-year Social Science major at AUC and UCSRN external communications officer. The survey was meant to shine a light on the effects of stress in a University College environment. Open to students of the nine University Colleges in the Netherlands, it collected just under four hundred responses. When asked why this survey was necessary, Mai replied “Stress is something that unites us,” adding that surveying students from every University College would allow college administrators to share best practices and collaborate on broad solutions.
In addition to their mental health status the 391 respondents were also asked about their weekly exercise habits, hours spent socialising, and if they had sought professional help. Despite the large number of students with a mental health condition, only 20 percent of affected students indicated that they had been in contact with a professional. This may also be reflected in the small number of students who have approached Peer Support, AUC’s informal student support organisation. Second-year Social Science major and member of Peer Support, Frederiek Tijssens, revealed that over the duration of the academic year only a handful of students approached a representative for help during office hours. In explaining a potential cause for the large number of UC students with a mental health condition, Tijssens says that the student culture at University Colleges is defined by social stress and a climate of perfectionism. Moreover, Tijssens thinks that the necessity of Facebook as an organisational tool for many social functions at AUC might be contributing to social pressure and anxiety, which would explain the prevalence of mental health issues.
Statistics within a highly cited paper from Technische Universität Dresden estimate that 38.2 percent of the european population suffers from a mental health condition – Mai’s survey estimates an alarming 49.6 percent for UC students.
Nonetheless, interpretation of the results is still up in the air. When students were asked about possible improvements to the stresses of University College, there were mixed responses. One student suggested that there is a need to “hire a professional psychologist,” whereas others were more dismissive, with one stating “[My mental health issue] has nothing to do with stress-levels,” whilst another responded that “a UC is not a place for therapy”. The sample size of 391 respondents also raises questions about how representative the survey is, as students enrolled at University Colleges in the Netherlands numbers in the thousands.
Of the nine University College representatives Mai shared the results of the survey with this March, four responded. One of them was the previous AUC Student Life Officer, Lydia Roberts. After receiving summary notes from Mai, Roberts replied that she found the survey insightful and that she would try to implement the notes into her approach. Now that Roberts has left the position of Student Life Officer, the outcome of Mai’s initiative rests in the hands of her successor, Aino Kikkonen, who was not yet ready to comment on the survey.
With room for improvement, Mai advises incoming UCSRN representatives to do more research. As the main purpose of her initiative was to explore the effects of stress on mental health, Mai concludes that “more can be done” and that future representatives need to continue the important work of investigating the state of mental health at University Colleges.