Universiteit Leiden

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Caring Universities: students struggling with coronavirus pandemic

Students have experienced more mental health problems such as anxiety, stress and low mood since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic than before. They also say they are struggling with the pandemic and ensuing restrictions. These are the results of a first survey by Caring Universities.

The participating universities, including Leiden University, are aware of the difficulties that students are facing, and are trying to provide the best possible support in a variety of different forms, ranging from tips on studying at home and a wellbeing week for students to referrals to student psychologists.

Student wellbeing partnership

Caring Universities is a partnership between VU Amsterdam, Leiden University, Maastricht University and Utrecht University. Students from the four universities take regular mental health checks (an online questionnaire) and are offered self-help e-health tools.

Not so carefree days

Leiden University is participating in Caring Universities following a recommendation made earlier this year by its Student Wellbeing Taskforce. National and international research has shown that student life today is not so carefree after all and that relatively many students – one in five – suffer from mental health problems and even burnout. The four Caring Universities share interventions, online programmes and best practices with their students. They also carry out regular student wellbeing surveys.

Extra help and guidance

It is difficult to quantify the increase in student mental health problems since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic because of limitations to this first (annual) survey by the four universities: at around 9.6% the response rate was low, for instance, which may mean the results are not representative. Despite this, the universities are taking the results seriously and are trying to provide lasting help to as many students as possible.

This help includes arranging for extra supervision from mentors/tutors, deferring the binding study advice and providing tips and advice on studying

from home. Students can also contact their study adviser or the University’s student psychologists and student deans.

Student support groups

Leiden University also provides Support Groups for students who need social contact and support. These groups of up to six students are led by a student or staff member of the University. They give students the opportunity to get to know new people, talk about anything that is bothering them, set personal goals and unwind.

Leiden University is also developing new study skills workshops and will hold special wellbeing weeks for its students in Leiden and The Hague at the start of 2021. During these wellbeing weeks, the University will offer a range of activities focusing on mental wellbeing and developing resilience. The Student Wellbeing Officer at Leiden University is calling on students to help her develop the wellbeing weeks programme and to share their ideas on other ways to help and support students. She can be contacted at: werkgroepstudentenwelzijn@sea.leidenuniv.nl.

Online programmes

Caring Universities is also developing an online programme that focuses on the coronavirus crisis and how students can cope with the effects. The aim is to build their resilience. The programme, which will go live in 2021, will cover study-life balance, goal setting, self-care and more, and will be under the guidance of specially trained e-coaches.

Caring Universities already offers two online e-health programmes with online coaches that make it easy for students to work on their symptoms: one is about dealing with stress and the other about low mood. The student feedback about these programmes is very positive.

Students who have not yet completed the Caring Universities survey will be given another opportunity to do so in mid-January 2021. The survey will be repeated in summer 2021.

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