Universiteit Leiden

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New Student Wellbeing task force kicks off with mental health

Stress among students is a growing problem. A new Student Wellbeing taskforce will be looking at the mental health of students at Leiden University.

It is a problem that is attracting increasing attention: students who experience too high pressure of work, suffer from stress or even develop mental or psychological problems. Earlier this year the Leiden University Platform (LUS) organised a symposium on  Handling Stress, which  was attended by many students. Vice-Rector Hester Bijl gave a talk at the symposium: ‘A faster society, a new life as a student and more and more choices. Students have a lot to contend with.' 

Performance pressure 

‘Research by Windesheim University of Applied Sciences has shown that more than 61% of Dutch students say that they experience performance pressure often to very often,' says Alderik Oosthoek, chair of the ONS student party in the University Council. The stress that that can cause also has an effect on students' cognitive abilities. Before the summer, his party raised this subject in the University Council, presenting a list of recommendations that they had put together along with student parties from the whole of the Netherlands. ‘Fortunately, it is an issue that already has the attention of the Executive Board, who immediately decided to set up a Student Wellbeing taskforce.' 

Taskforce of students and experts

The taskforce will be made up of students, psychological counsellors and student counsellors, as well as experts on stress from the LUMC and the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences. They will first analyse the extent of the problem within the Leiden student community. They will then look at the university's policies in this area - what facilities are already in place and what more is needed - and will consider how students' wellbeing is affected by measures to improve the student success rate. 

Uncertain about the future

Psychological counsellor Emile Dingjan is happy that this taskforce has been set up. 'We're seeing an increasing number of students contacting us, although not a shocking increase. But the reasons why students contact us seem to be changing. A lot of students are uncertain about what the future will bring, and that causes them stress. The experience of stress also seems stronger.' He welcomes the plan to find out just how big the problem is among Leiden students.  

Causes of stress

To be able to take measures to improve students' mental health, you first need to know what the causes are. Oosthoek often hears about the pressure that comes from the demands made on students to study faster and better, demands that come in the form of the Binding Study Advice, for example. ‘I think that reducing or even removing those measures that are intended to raise study performance will have the biggest effect on students' mental health.' According to psychological counsellor Dingjan, the ever-increasing emphasis on excellence plays an important role. 'Getting a six is no longer enough and students are expected to do all kinds of extras, like honours classes, excellence tracks, committee membership or admin work. And it's becoming more common for master's to be based on selection. That's a lot of pressure.'  

Support for students

Dingjan advocates a more balanced policy within the university, with less emphasis on excellence. 'There has to be room for the average student, too! If that idea is more widely propagated, it can save a lot of stress.' Oosthoek hopes that rapid action will soon be taken. 'An awareness campaign for students can be a first improvement, to help students realise that they are not alone with their stress symptoms or psychological problems, but that the university is also there to help.' Dingjan endorses that sentiment.  'The student psychologists have open consultation hours, or your study adviser can refer you to us.' Besides individual guidance, there are also all kinds of training courses and workshops for students to help them with their studies and any stress they might be experiencing. 'Students are always welcome to contact us.'  

Are you suffering from stress?

Are you experiencing stress, performance pressure or other problems that are having a negative effect on your studies? If so, don't hesitate to visit one of the psychological counsellors. You can find information about the walk-in hours or make an appointment on the student website.

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