1K Z1E J3 bench placed on Wijnhaven Rooftop Garden: ‘Don't be afraid to start a conversation’
'Een goed gesprek begint met iemand écht zien’ (A good conversation starts with truly seeing someone). That text is written on a plaque that was screwed onto a 1K Z1E J3 (I see you) bench in Wijnhaven's rooftop garden on Monday morning. The bench acts as a symbol to create room for discussions about suicide, depression, and despair.
Suicide is a big problem in our society, especially among young adults. On average, more than 20 young people up to 30 years old commit suicide in the Netherlands every month. There is still a taboo on talking about suicide. Marieke Liem, Professor of Social Resilience and Safety: 'By placing the bench, we want to remove the stigma surrounding this subject. By opening the topic up for discussion, we can take action, give people the help they need, and, ultimately, reduce the numbers of suicide.'
Marieke Liem: 'By placing the bench, we want to remove the stigma surrounding this subject. By opening the topic up for discussion, we can take action, give people the help they need, and, ultimately, reduce the numbers of suicide.'
Big problem in society
The collaboration between Leiden University and 113 Suicide Prevention, the initiator of the 1K Z1E J3 benches, has existed for some time. Liem: 'That collaboration came about through a shared interest in studying suicide as a major problem in society. As a university, we want to contribute to helping to prevent this issue. Cooperation with an organisation such as 113 is an important part of this.' That cooperation consists of several components, such as providing guest lectures, conducting research, and setting up research projects.
Since September 2022, more than a thousand benches have already been placed throughout the Netherlands. Monique Kavelaars, Chair of the Executive Board of 113 Suicide Prevention, screwed the plaque onto the bench together with Marieke Liem. 'As far as I’m concerned, this isn’t simply a symbolic action, but marks the start of a wonderful cooperation. For us it’s very important to open the topic of suicide up for discussion, working together we can break the taboo.'
According to Victor Koppelmans, head of the communication & marketing department at the faculty, the bench is only the starting point. 'With a small plaque such as this you can create a big impact. We’d like to use it to bring this problem to the attention of colleagues and students. Start having those conversations with each other.' September is national suicide prevention week in the Netherlands and Koppelmans hopes that benches with similar plaques will have been placed on the grounds of every Leiden University building by then. 'We’re going to do our best to make that happen.'
Issue needs to become more visible
Laura van der Plas, student wellbeing coordinator at FGGA, welcomes the initiative. 'The bench is a good visible representation of the issue, but it can also help students and staff to actually start that conversation with someone they’re concerned about. In The Hague, we form a caring community of staff and students. We help each other, for instance through the Acts of Kindness pillar, we build ties in various (study) associations and (student) organisations and we get to know each other by taking part in working groups, workshops, and courses. As a result, we also notice when someone is not doing so well. As a faculty, we have several initiatives where students and staff can turn to when they are struggling with certain issues, but there’s hardly any attention for suicide.'
Statistics among young people
On average, more than 20 young people up to 30 years old commit suicide in the Netherlands every month. There is rarely a single cause for suicide. It is often an accumulation of several issues. Research by 113 shows that it often involves young adults who dropped out of school, experience mental health problems, struggle with money problems and/or identify with the LGBTQA+ community. Performance pressure, relationship problems, and loneliness are also mentioned as issues that young adults with suicidal thoughts are struggling with.
Text: Margriet van der Zee
Images: Hielco Kuipers
Translation: Marleen van Koetsveld
Do you need help?
Please do not hesitate to contact 113 Suicide Prevention Foundation via their phone number: 0800-0113 or website: 113.nl. The helpline and chat service are available to both Dutch and English speakers.