Mental health monitor for Leiden students reveals need for more action
Last month, research by the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) revealed that more than half of students in higher professional education and at universities experience psychological complaints and emotional exhaustion, and that a quarter of them suffer from anhedonia (loss of enjoyment of life). Many students experience stress, performance pressure and sleep problems. In addition to national results, the findings specific to students at Leiden University have also been published. These show the same pattern as the national results.
The university values the mental well-being of its students and tries to support them with initiatives like student support groups, workshops on mental well-being, the Student Wellbeing Week and tackling stress and procrastination. More student psychologists also have been recruited in the past year to support students with mild mental health problems. Students can also follow one of Caring Universities’ e-health programmes whenever they like, to further develop various kinds of life skills.
Recognising excessive substance use
The research also shows that excessive gaming or substance use (alcohol, drugs, tobacco or concentration-enhancing drugs like Ritalin) is sometimes a signal (e.g., for study stress or worries about student debt). Around the summer of 2022, the university will unveil an alcohol and substance prevention policy. It will focus on strengthening mental health skills, such as recognising risk signals for frequent or high-risk substance use, being open about it, seeking help and dealing with stigma.
Encouraging contact with other students
Contact with other students during the coronavirus pandemic has proven to be difficult but very valuable. That is why the university will soon organise the UL Winter weeks: to offer various activities around the holidays, especially for (international) students who want to stay in touch with fellow students. Students can also easily find activities and communities (groups of students who share the same interests) on the Uni-Life app.
Promoting staff expertise
Besides these offerings for students, the university also invests in a network of study advisers, mentors and study and student associations centred around students, in order to be able to offer the right help at the earliest possible stage. The university trains these staff to recognise when a student is getting stuck and refer them to the right place. A staff symposium on student welfare will be organised on 15 March 2022. The university is also in the process of creating a clear roadmap, both inside and outside the university, so every student knows where to find the right help.
Expanding support services
In the coming year, the university wants to develop a clear vision on student welfare, and we will identify stressors that the university can influence. Leiden University wants to invest even more in improving students’ mental health, which includes expanding the preventive support services offered to students. Those might include training sessions and workshops on performance pressure and loneliness. This ties in with our goal of promoting social connection, together with students.
All these initiatives are being designed in consultation with students. Do you have ideas, or would you like to contribute? Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Monique Shaw