‘We want to erase the stigma of talking about how we’re doing’

Through their start-up, master’s student Neva Rustad and her co-founders want to help students with mental health and well-being.

Co-founders of the student startup Hii: Vicky Toellner (left), Neva Rustad (center), Melissa Kramer (right). (Photo: Paul Schellekens)

“I am studying Design for Interaction at the Faculty of Industrial Design Engineering. I started in February, as did my co-founders, Vicky Toellner and Melissa Kramer. We’re taking a course called ‘Build Your Start-up’ which is a course where you get to spend time building and developing your own start-up.

We really wanted to do something with a social focus and we ended up with an idea about student mental health and well-being. We thought it was really interesting and it felt like it was something where we could make an impact. The business we came up with is called Hii, and we offer workshops that combine methods from design and psychology to help students talk about and understand themselves better. We just started five weeks ago so we’re still in the beginning phase, but we see that a lot of students are interested so that’s encouraging. We have also gotten some good, encouraging feedback from the student psychologists at TU Delft so that feels good.

None of us have backgrounds in psychology and we definitely don’t want to replace psychologists. We’re not equipped to do that. One of the TU Delft psychologists explained that there is a scale from -10 to +10 to rate how you are doing. If you’re between zero and -10, that’s when you should seek professional help from a therapist. But on the other side, positive psychology is really about building a buffer space, building emotional resilience so that you have something to fall back on. That’s where we want to work. We know that peer support and having students talk to each other and listen to each other can be a really nice tool for them.

We offer peer support group sessions where there are between three to five students and one student facilitator. We have taken methods from creative facilitation, which is a design principle, and combined them with positive psychology. Through reflection and sharing, we try to help students create their own actionable steps.

‘We definitely don’t want to replace psychologists’

We did a pilot session on dealing with stress. Going through these methods, you start with a problem and then ask why. By doing this again and again, the idea is that you get to deeper and deeper layers of the problem. What we see is that it’s not necessarily about having all of the answers to the problem, it’s more about getting it out there and having other people listen. I think a lot of these things are things that students can relate to.

We hope to train students to be facilitators and they can use our methods in group sessions. The idea is to make this local at universities, not a big online thing. We believe this gives more of a feeling of trust. We’re obviously starting with TU Delft but this could be scaled in the future. Every time we do a session, we learn what works and what we can improve on. We get inspiration for topics from the participants so we’re continually developing ideas. So far, the feedback has been very encouraging so we really want to continue working on this.

A lot of the start-up course is about talking to experts and getting yourself out there. It’s easy to sit and do desk research, that’s really safe. But I think we’ve seen that the people we’ve reached out to are very open and honest and helpful. And it’s been meaningful for people to participate in what we’re doing. After a couple of sessions, we interviewed participants afterwards and they say that it is nice to get stuff off your chest and reflecting with people makes you feel like you’re not alone. I think there’s really something there and our overall mission is to erase the stigma of talking about how we’re doing. We want people to be freer to share experiences and it would be very cool if we could reach more students with this.”

  •  Hii was created to help students talk with each other about mental health and well-being.

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Heather Montague / Freelance writer

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