By Chia-Ai Hsu | April 29, 2021
Illustration by Bella Villanueva
Of the challenges posed by online university, mental health struggles are at the forefront. University Reporter Chia-Ai Hsu delves into the support the UvA provides by interviewing individual students about their experiences and solutions to face these challenges.
With education still fully online and social contact virtually non-existent, many students are struggling with their mental health. The University of Amsterdam (UvA), and all its constituents including study associations, faculty student councils, and individual students themselves have been proposing ways to help tackle the difficulties students face with their mental health.
On March 18, 2021, the official UvA Instagram page posted several stories, sharing the message that “it’s OK not to be OK sometimes.” These were linked to a web page that was created about two months prior, containing initiatives and other resources for students facing mental health challenges. These include events, group chats, online study areas, and more.
Joselyn Moran, a 22-year-old Psychology student, who is also the assistant of the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences (FMG) Student Council, proposed the idea of a virtual study space on Discord as students have very limited access to physical study places. Students can study in this digital space and social interactions are made possible:
“At the start of the year, we are seeing a lot of students struggling with motivation and trying to keep up with the school work when we are home and alone, […] it [the virtual study space] was on the focus to try and make students feel less lonely, and that way they can study with other people, chat with other people, do activities together, to just have a central hub to do anything you’ll do at a university.”
Aside from these spaces more focused on group activities, there are options for students who want to have individual conversations. A first-year Business Administration student aged 19 anonymously shared their experience with the study advisors when dealing with their circumstantial mental health issues:
“The study advisor helped me feel validated in my problems, […] they’ve been good in giving help in most things I needed. […] You can always start with something else and if you feel comfortable talking to that person, you can transition to talk about mental health.”
First-year Anthropology student Vicky Bannister, aged 21, talks about her experience as an international student. She mentions stress related to not knowing where to find help when personally experiencing mental health issues:
“Especially for internationals when we are away from our homes… especially during the pandemic… if there was more help [for mental health] from the university, then that will definitely help internationals to know where to go.,” said Bannister. “There just needs to be more guidance from the university. And there are more resources available for Dutch people whereas there [is] just not enough help for internationals…”
Vicky also created an Instagram account @beingperfectisboring to not only keep track of her progress with fighting mental health challenges but also to share the messages of “you are not alone” and “being perfect is boring.”
“I want to show through social media that you don’t have to show a perfect and fantastic life, […] cause nobody lives like that all the time.,” said Bannister, “[…] I just want to show that mental health is okay, so many of us have it, we don’t need to hide it. […] I just need to accept it, learn to like it, and what’s wrong with sharing it. It’s just me, [if] people don’t like it, that’s up to them.”
Vicky receives multiple messages from strangers about the content she posts. This account helped her as well as the people who reached out to her to understand that they are not alone.
There are still many people out there experiencing similar challenges in life especially in these COVID times, so we should not be afraid to reach out when we have mental health struggles. It is important to learn that: it’s okay to not be okay.
There are more ongoing discussions regarding students’ well-being between the UvA and student representatives. The Amsterdammer will be publishing follow-ups about the latest changes.
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