By Fabian Kuzmic
Life at AUC can be tumultuous. Meeting the high academic demands while leading a fulfilling student life can pose many challenges, often taking a toll on students’ mental health. Dealing with mental health problems on top of all the other stresses is no easy task, knows 2021-22 Student Council co-chair Maxence-Viktor Liesenborgs. “But students don’t have to figure out everything on their own,” she says. How students can get help explains the Mental Health Guide (MHG) that was published at the beginning of the semester. The former lack of a centralised and coherent reference point for all AUC students seeking help motivated the Student Council in 2019 to initiate the creation of the MHG.
The new guide is the result of a 3-year long collaboration between the Student Council and the AUC Well-Being Team. The AUC Well-Being Team, the main contact point to get mental health support at AUC, consists of the Student Life Officers (SLOs), the Graduate Assistant (GA) to the SLOs, Peer Supporters, and the Resident Assistants (RAs). After the idea of the MHG was born by the Student Council of 2019-2020, the Student Council of 2020-2021 created its first draft. Liesenborgs was part of finalising its first version last year, which was a “hefty, but very important, task.” She stresses how intricate it was to disentangle the Dutch mental healthcare system for the guide.
To assure the validity and timeliness of the MHG, the SLOs Aino Kekkonen, Lisa van Berkel and Fili Dianellou supervised the entire process and fact-checked all information. “Consulting many sources was critical for compiling such an expansive document for students wishing to access resources at AUC, the UvA, the VU, and within the Dutch healthcare system,” says Miriam Crane, a second-year Social Science major at AUC and responsible for mental health in the current Student Council. The Student Council intends to review the MHG annually together with Peer Support and the SLOs to keep it up to date.
Temporary SLO Fili Dianellou remembers her time of moving to the Netherlands as an international student: “I frequently felt lost, angry, and disempowered,” she says, “Let’s not forget that university life is a transition from adolescence to adulthood. Feeling unstable, questioning your choices, deconstructing biases and stereotypes, and being confronted with dysfunctional internalised patterns are integral parts of this phase.” The MHG seeks to prevent the accumulation of emotional pressure and feelings of helplessness. Dianellou says she wishes she would have had access to “such a useful document” during her time as a student. “Knowing where you can turn to, who to call in case of an emergency and how you can handle a crisis is really empowering. It instils a sense of agency in students,” she points out.
But time scarcity might prevent some students from reaching out. Dianellou says, “I met with many highly stressed and overwhelmed students who were reluctant to seek help because they had no time or deemed the process of ‘finding out’ very complicated and energy-consuming.” Others might struggle with the uncertainty of which struggles deserve help. Liesenborgs wants to clarify that “all concerns are valid.” Instead of waiting around and trying to see if students can figure out their issues by themselves, she encourages them to immediately go find help if they think they are struggling.
Crane points out that the lowest-threshold support service within AUC is Peer Support, a group of AUC students offering active listening or helping you find the right support.
While Dianellou acknowledges that some students may struggle with confronting their emotions in the presence of someone else, there is no need to be ashamed of any mental health issues. If anything, reaching out for help and taking this first step shows strength, according to Dianellou. She confirms that “AUC is such a multicultural setting and has been aspiring to foster a culture of inclusion.” She claims that the SLOs “really want [their] office to be seen as a safe space and respecting students’ limitations and boundaries is vital.”
By having a look at the MHG, students gain an overview of all relevant emergency numbers, the available resources and different types of psychotherapy, which might help them get an idea about what support they could benefit from the most. “I would love for students to use the MHG as a first step in their own journeys,” says Liesenborgs.