Lockdown stories: ‘It’s okay to struggle and to seek help’

Despite mental health struggles and the Covid lockdown, master’s student Cynthia Ko managed to graduate with flying colours. Now she wants others to know they are not alone.

Cynthia Ko: “Working on your mental health is like a full-time job.” (Photo: Sylvia Ko)

“I was finishing up my thesis for my master’s degree (Design for Interaction) at a company in Amsterdam, which I started in November 2019. Luckily, in the beginning I was able to go to the office every day, but then the last two months I had to stay at home.

I had to do my greenlight meeting online, where you present to the client and supervisory team to see if you will pass or not. I also had to do my final defence presentation online. I was a bit anxious about the digital tools I was using, but in the end, I really liked it because I have a lot of friends abroad, so people from Japan, Australia and the UK were able to attend my ceremony. I guess it was a little anticlimactic to be at home, but at the same time it was a beautiful moment because I got to share it with everybody that I cared about.

 ‘There was very little support on campus for mental health issues’

It’s been a long journey for me dealing with my mental health. I was officially diagnosed with chronic depression about seven years ago. It’s something that was building during my childhood years, from being bullied to other traumas and personal, bicultural conflicts. I only realised how much it impacted my everyday life during my studies here at TU Delft. I always felt like there was very little support on campus for mental health issues. But during the last two months of my thesis I felt like I had built enough resilience through therapy and a very supportive personal network. Working on your mental health is like a full-time job. It starts with pushing past the negative emotions of getting out of bed, repeating positive affirmations, practising mindfulness, exercising, journaling and meditating every night to help me fall asleep. These are skills that I built up by going to therapy and taking antidepressants; opening up and seeking help was a part of my healing process.

I feel like a lot of people struggle with these issues, with the pressure to stay at the faculty, working late to finish projects. You put so much work in during your studies. I know that a lot of people don’t dare to speak out about it because it might influence their career opportunities. Especially now during Covid, there are more insecurities about job prospects and people might be even more afraid to be vulnerable. I decided that I really wanted to share my experience, whether I ended up failing my thesis or not, to tell people that it’s okay to struggle and to seek help.

My perspective changed a bit with those two months being at home. I was working on my thesis and I had a lot of time to reflect on myself, sleep in when I needed to, take breaks when I needed to. So, in a way it was positive as well. Having the time to reflect, I realised I really wanted to make my dream come true. I’ve always wanted to run a half marathon in the name of charity as a means of celebrating my own struggle and staying alive all of these years.

So I set up a GoFundMe page as a fundraiser for this UK mental health charity called Mind. I chose it because I volunteered for the organisation before and I believe in their projects and the way they help others. I’m overwhelmed by the support I’ve gotten already. I’m aiming to raise EUR 1,000 and will donate everything to Mind. I will be running on 14 October. It’s actually my birthday as well so I think it’s a nice way to celebrate being alive.”

  • If you or someone you know are in crisis, here is some information on how you can get help.
  • For more information and tips on dealing with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, here are some resources from the Dutch government. (only in Dutch)

  • In this special series, Delta takes a personal look at how Covid-19 and the lockdown have impacted the people who work or study at TU Delft. Want to be featured in this series? Or do you know someone with a good story to tell? Send us an e-mail at  

Heather Montague / Freelance writer

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