By Milan Matthes Kale
Welcome to Humans of AUC, my version of Humans of New York, from our own little bubble. This collection of stories and experiences with regards to AUC’s international student population’s experience with mental health has been a long time coming. AUC has a completely new generation of students, who have had most of their studies occur during the pandemic, taking a toll on their mental health. As school moved online, so did AUC’s mental health resources, a change that made seeking help more difficult. The Student Council and well-being team announced in 2020 that they were working on creating a Learning Disorder Manual and a Mental Health Guide. As of yet, neither has been published, leaving many students in the dark. These stories began to be collected through interviews during the darker months on campus, with finals looming, and winter break just over the horizon.
Second-Year Science Major
“I did have some mental struggles while at AUC, mainly in the first semester when everything was shut down. I didn’t know anybody, and I was in a new country by myself for the first time. The fact that I could not go back home during the October break took its toll. I did seek help during my time at AUC, but not within AUC because I knew how long the waiting list is. I contacted my therapist from back home, who I knew since my high school days. I am currently struggling with my Eating disorder and depressive episodes. They get particularly bad during very stressful times, like the ones surrounding finals. This is a recurring thing with me at AUC. When November hits, I don’t know if it’s the weather or the finals/or both, (but I struggle a lot with balancing my social life, leisure, and studying) but my mood and motivation just plummet. I feel overwhelmed and I always have doubts about whether what I do is enough. Because of this I tend to isolate myself and cancel any plans I have with my friends. What gets me out of this state is ending the semester and going back home where I can relax and find support in my family.”
Margaux Bouniol, Second-Year Social Science Major, USA
“I am a second-year student, so I moved here at the peak of the pandemic, and experienced the 2020-2021 lockdown. I think that being pent up in the dorms, not getting to explore, and being on my own for the first time in my life contributed to me going into a depressive episode. I had little motivation for school or self-care. Eventually, the lockdown lifted and I got better at living on my own. Luckily, I am not in the place I was in back then.
I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder that I have been living with for at least 4 years. I am on medication so it hasn’t been a significant problem for me until this school year when I experienced heightened social anxiety.
I originally sought help by contacting my tutor and met once with the student life officer. In the beginning, they helped me learn about the process of finding a therapist in Amsterdam. This, combined with help from my GP, is how I got in contact with the therapist I’ve been seeing. I didn’t see the SLO more than once but my tutor was a big help to me. When I was going through my worst, he would meet with me for weekly walks in the park just to discuss what I was going through. Even this year with my heightened anxiety, he gave me some useful coping mechanisms. I think that having a tutor who cares about their tutees and is non-judgemental is one of the best things AUC can offer.
I did eventually find a therapist but it was a long and tedious process. At the peak of the pandemic, you couldn’t get in anywhere immediately. I don’t think it’s news to anyone that the Dutch mental health assistance system is very slow. If you want a therapist, you will probably be on a waitlist for a while. The trick is to get on a waitlist as quickly as possible, even if you are feeling okay, so that way when you are feeling depressed and highly demotivated, you don’t need to worry about putting effort into applying. I took a long time to apply because of this, but in the end, I got the help I needed. People must know that help is possible!”
Third-Year Science Major, Europe
“I’ve had way too many mental health struggles while at AUC, some of which have affected my physical abilities and memory. I had a chronic trauma that I only recently started getting my memories back from, in the form of flashbacks, and presumably am suffering from PTSD. I have spoken with the Student Life Officer and I have been looking for help outside of AUC for over 6 months now. But I have been rejected by 3 different clinics at times because what I faced was too serious, one of which was for inpatient treatment, where I was rejected because there was no room for me. I am currently waiting for the intake interview for my 4th referral. I am stuck waiting for my intake interview and will continue to wait for another 5 months before treatment can begin following the intake interview. Nothing has worked thus far, I will try to start treatment in my home country and continue online while in the Netherlands if possible, but in the end I just really want help.”
Zara Omardeen, Second-Year Sciences Major, Trinidad and Tobago
“The lockdown for the second semester of our first year was very difficult for me to regulate myself. I was required to make my room, both my living space, my study space, and my dining room. It was difficult for me to maintain focus on my school work. The beginning of the semester was especially difficult as I was still adjusting to winter and days being short — a stark difference from my warm home. I was very interested in the material that I was learning in my classes but I found myself falling behind, after the first month, because I was not able to regulate myself properly in that environment. The stress continued to build and I would have periods of shutting down and being unable to work for a couple of days. Being taken out of my environment helped, so I began to study at my friends’ apartments, and there I was able to focus better. I also did online classes with friends to keep me focused and engaged. But overall, I still failed 2 of the 5 courses that I was taking.
Within AUC, mental health support is pretty limited. Lisa, one of the Student Life Officers, has been very kind and useful in trying to help me seek help outside of AUC, but they are very limited in the amount that they can do. She has been a stable form of support for me, as I try to get formal help. Within UvA, there is also support to be offered but it is short-term and is more focused on school-related problems. Outside of AUC, there is the issue of the language barrier which limits the options for help that are available. The bump in the road that I am currently dealing with is that I have international student insurance (AON) which doesn’t cover all services that I am interested in or if it does it covers them in a limited capacity. Dealing with this requires a lot of back and forth between my insurance and the different places that I am seeking help from.”
Mental health resources within AUC and UvA:
Psychologists – UvA Students – University of Amsterdam – https://student.uva.nl/en/content/az/psychologists/psychologists.html
Psychologists – Vrije Universiteit – https://vu.nl/en/education/more-about/student-psychological-counsellors
Meetings with SLOs (office365.com) – https://outlook.office365.com/owa/calendar/MeetingswithSLOs@Amsuni.onmicrosoft.com/bookings/
Student counselors – UvA Students – University of Amsterdam – https://student.uva.nl/en/content/az/student-counsellors/student-counsellors.html#Study-skills
Care Amsterdam – safe spaces and support – University of Amsterdam – https://uvadiversity.blog/care-amsterdam/
A list of English and other non-dutch speaking psychologists and counselors in Amsterdam:
Psychologenpraktijk N. Gorin-Frank: https://gorinpsychologen.nl/
Psychologie- en psychotherapiepraktijk Marquette: https://www.marquette-psychologen
Kuhler and Partners: https://www.internationalmentalhealth.nl/#about
Cloud Busting Therapy: https://cloudbustingtherapy.com/en/home-en/
And more therapists for internationals in Amsterdam – https://www.iamexpat.nl/expat
Suicide hotline and other relevant links:
133 or 0800-0133