Tackling Mental Health and Well-being at AUC

By Leonie Lemor

— Tackling mental health is attracting more attention this academic year at AUC. Together with the Student Council, Student Life Officer Aino Kekkonen has implemented weekly consultation sessions with an UvA psychologist directly at the AB. Additionally, AUC professor Daan van Schalkwijk has founded a new educational development initiative which currently researches how academic structures at AUC might influence student’s mental health. The Student Council and Peer Support team have also announced plans to act on the issue.

Earlier this year, the UCSRN conducted a study on the state of mental health at university colleges. The results revealed that around half of surveyed students may suffer from a mental health condition. The new Student Life Officer Aino Kekkonen recognised the need for more mental support at AUC and helped to arrange for professional help directly at AUC. On Mondays from 9 to 12 p.m., UvA psychologist Vinanda Kapooria is available for everyone seeking professional advice around mental health. Previously, AUC students had to take the extra step of going to Roeterseiland campus to see a UvA psychologist. This physical barrier has now been overcome which will hopefully decrease the mental barrier as well. Kekkonen adds “From all the feedback I have gotten so far, I think we are taking a step into the right direction.”

Next to this, a newly emerged initiative by Professor Daan van Schalkwijk approaches student mental health through research. A team of seven students are divided into three groups to empirically assess mental health at AUC from different angles: one group focuses on teacher–student interactions, another group looks at insights from other university colleges, and the third group investigates the current support system. By means of surveys, interviews, and focus groups, each group explores student perception of academic structures, and how that might influence their mental health. Van Schalwijk says their goal is to look into “what is experienced as problematic within their surroundings.”

Sophie Sutherland, second-year Science major and a member of the group focusing on teacher–student interactions, believes that looking at communication in class will lead to insights in teaching practices. Sutherland thinks that the teaching styles of lecturers could be improved in order to reduce stress, and differences in the quality of teaching across majors could be adjusted. The initiative has not defined concrete end results to their research, but van Schalkwijk imagines yearly teacher workshop as a potential consequence of this group’s work.

Although the initiative may continue to exist for longer, it only functions as an internship until December. Resulting time limits and difficulties accessing existing research pose obstacles to the project. Additionally, the team acknowledges that mental health issues often have multifactorial causes that go beyond the academic environment. Van Schalkwijk comments: “We cannot solve everything but we want to see how we can contribute most.” One concrete action that is being planned by the initiative is to help organise a conference on social responsibility next year, which will be held at AUC.

Peer Support and the Student Council also plan to implement changes in order to increase the visibility and accessibility of available services and raise awareness about mental health in general. Lela Roos, third-year Science major and member of Peer Support, explains that “we have not lowered the threshold for people to come talk to us yet”. Their goal for this academic year is to make it clear to students how Peer Support can be of help to them, whilst at the same time following a more active approach that allows them to start conversations with students themselves. Similarly, the Student Council plans on opening a discussion between students and teachers on the issue of “excellence”, and how the perception of “excellence” might be linked to mental health issues at AUC. Their policy plan also contains suggestions that include encouraging teachers to give 5 minute breaks in their lectures, and providing content warnings for specific courses.

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