‘The Radboud Well-Being Week is a cosmetic measure’

10 Oct 2018

The fact that many students deal with psychological problems, is something Johanna, Floor and Marloes know from their own experience. In spite of that, they will take a pass on the Radboud Well-Being Week. They prefer to use the occassion to start a discussion. 'We dó want to find the underlying causes.'

It is hard for students to miss the Radboud Well-Being Week: the week, meant to raise awareness for mental issues amongst students and staff, is promoted intensively online and on campus.

Students Arts and Culture studies Marloes van Essen, Johanna Meulenberg and Floor Bussink were invited to this week’s activities. Good that there’s attention for mental health, was their first thought. But when they looked at the programme, they were very disappointed.

‘The first thing we saw was a happiness box (in which students and employees can leave their special wishes, ed.), something with wellness and a course on planning’, explains Marloes. ‘As if they want to say: Here’s how you work yourself into a burn-out, but in a organised manner. That is the impression it left on us.’

The three students therefore choose to take a pass on the Radboud Well-Being Week. Instead, they organise several brainstorm sessions today, in the living room of the Faculty of Arts. ‘We want to hear from different kinds of people what their experiences are with psychological problems’, says Johanna. ‘Ans we are looking for the underlying causes of and solutions for these problems.’

The students see today’s meeting as a kick-off. Johanna: ‘It is to early to call this a movement, but we want to start a conversation on how the university should deal with these types of problems.’

In Johanna’s, Marloes’ and Floor’s eyes, the Well-Being Week is filled with activities that teach students how to deal with their problems. ‘Go and do a workshop, attend a lecture… That is not going to help anybody in the long run, right?’, says Johanna. ‘There’s no attention for where the problems come from and how we can make education accessible for people with mental health issues.’ With the Well-Being Week, says Johanna, the university sends out the signal that facing psychological problems is a personal failure, and that students can just get over it.

The students themselves have experienced what it is like to deal with mental health problems in the classroom. ‘I take less classes right now because of my health’, says Floor, who deals with concentration disorder ADD. ‘The university offered me a planning course. Initially, I thought: that will solve my problem. But the bad planning is just a part of a much bigger problem.’

‘We have to find a way to deal with the mental issues of our students’

According to Floor, who has to retake classes because of missed deadlines, it is not only the university’s responsibility to find a solution for her. ‘But they to have to find a way to deal with the mental health issues of their students. The fact that you are in therapy, does not mean your problems have disappeared.’

At the same time, the university faces strong budget cuts. On top of that, the introduction of the loan system – a measure that has raised the pressure for many students, was a decision that has not been made by the board of the university. However, Johanna, Floor and Marloes think it is too easy to put all the blame on political The Hague. They prefer to focus on solutions the university itself can offer.

For example, they think educating the teachers could make a big difference. Johanna: ‘Will you force someone who has social anxiety to stand in front of a classroom? Will you force someone with a depression to stick to his deadlines, even though he has trouble even getting out of bed?’ Many teachers do not know how to approach students with mental health issues. ‘If you want to postpone your deadline, you often have to discuss this with your teacher at length’, says Johanna. ‘Sometimes, you have to explain your whole traumatising family history to convince them that you really cannot write an essay right now.’

The students get the sense, from their own experience and from the Well-Being Week, that the university mostly wants students – despite their problems – to stay productive: to collect their study points in spite of everything. Instead, students with wellbeing problems should get more room to breathe.

For example, by showing them which funds are available, says Johanna. ‘Why is there no attention for the Fonds regulation during this week? Many people don’t know the regulations they can turn to, even though part of why they are there is to support students who cannot finish their studies within the set time, because of health problems. You could use the Well-Being Week to generate more attention for that specific budget, and to make sure that the resources grow.’

Content warnings
The students’ criticism on the Well-Being Week does not come out of the blue. Within their own study programme, they already fought to make education more accessible for students with mental health issues. The most concrete example of this: some of their teachers now give content warnings before their classes.

‘Some teachers think we are being too bold’

Johanna explains: ‘In our study progamme, Arts and Culture sciences, lecturers show film clips a lot. By telling students about their content in advance, the teachers create the possibility for them to prepare. What if there is a student with PTSD after an experience with sexual violence, and a rape scene leads to a panic attack?’

Not all lecturers are as willing to include these content warnings in the course guide, the students say. ‘Some teachers think we are being too bold’, says Floor. ‘Even though it’s a very real problem’, says Marloes. ‘It disturbs people in their studies – students do not feel safe in class. You have to do something about that, right?’

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