[Column] Is studying still fun?

Student columnist Bas Rooijakkers believes that people should just get on with things. But he was shocked to read recent research on the mental health of students.

Bas Rooijakkers: “Until a new Cabinet takes office, I’m holding my breath.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

I recently read the nationwide research by the RIVM (Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment), GGD GHOR (Community Health Services Regional Medical Health Services) and the Trimbos Institute about students’ mental health. While the compiled report is worrying, it is very interesting. I recommend reading it (in Dutch). In brief, things are not going well with students’ mental health. Almost everyone experiences stress (97%); 70% experience the pressure to perform; almost 80% experience feelings of loneliness; 51% experience psychological complaints such as anxiety and feeling down; and 25% of students have had suicidal thoughts.

I always think that people shouldn’t complain and just get on with things. I too have experienced stress before an exam or have felt down because my modules were boring in a particular quarter, but I was shocked when I read this. Before I started studying everyone told me that your student time was the best time of your life. This research shows that this is not the case for many students.

The report says that the pandemic has certainly played a role, as does the financial pressure on students. Twenty-eight percent of students will graduate with a debt of EUR 40,000. The most interesting point is the report’s conclusion that these obstacles cannot be seen separately from the societal context in which students operate, the ‘intangible and dominant norms and values around performance and excellence’.

‘Companies think it’s good if you have done something next to your studies, don’t they?’

I too have experienced these. It now feels as if just earning your degree is not enough. Every student who has graduated from TU Delft has probably done a year serving on a board or working in a Dream Team. Or has gained experience abroad and just did their course nominally. At least, this is what many students strive for. Why? They are then a desirable well-rounded person for companies when they start working. Companies think it’s good if you have done something next to your studies, don’t they?

I have also done a year serving on a board and have been involved in dozens of committees. But my CV has never been the main reason for doing this. It is at the back of your mind as you don’t ‘only’ want to have spent all your time studying while at university. The good thing is that you learn a lot doing these extracurricular activities. The problem is that a lot of students feel that they have to do this instead of doing it because they want to.

Even though it is apparently taking its toll on a large majority of students, three quarters of the students have not received any help or advice from their own educational institutions. The reason could be that they do not recognise or admit their own psychological symptoms, or their psychological symptoms make it hard to find help.

If I search for ‘TU Delft studenten’ in Google, the second hit is psychologist. Should you wish to make an appointment, the waiting time is four to six weeks. In view of this report, it is time to cut the waiting time. Even more important, if you are reading this and happen to be a student with psychological symptoms, make an appointment!

Bas Rooijakkers is a master’s student in Applied Physics. He was born in Brabant and spent part of his youth on Curaçao. He enjoys jogging and since the corona pandemic has also picked up cycling. He is also always in for a coffee or a craft beer.

Do you need help?

  • You can contact the TU Delft student psychologists here. You can check the current waiting time here, but there are daily walk-in sessions between 12:45 and 13:45 for questions and quick advice.
  • The e-Health tool is available on Awareness & self-management. You can do some of the tips to help your psychological well-being independently
  • The student psychologists have published tips and tools on studying during the corona crisis online. They include a page on recognising psychological problems.
  • Motiv runs self-help groups, individual contact and a student support line. If you are contemplating suicide and you need immediate contact, phone or chat anonymously on 113 and/or contact your doctor or medical centre.
  • If you are concerned about someone you know, contact ‘Meldpunt Bezorgd’ on 0900 040 040 5 or on the website. This care is for people living in Delft. If you are concerned about someone outside Delft, phone 112 (the emergency services) or 113 (suicide help line).

Bas Rooijakkers / Columnist

Columnist Bas Rooijakkers

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