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Mental health – an ongoing crisis for students

After a year of observing student culture, one of the things that shocked me was how everyone loves to act like they’re living a picture-perfect life, where they have thousands of good friends and all they do is party and eat at expensive places… Constant posts and stories where it’s all smiles, drinks, food, raves, joints, and friends.

What is actually difficult is accepting that this lifestyle is mostly fake and unattainable. For the longest time, I unconsciously formed part of portraying a curated version of my life on social media. But seeing it from other people, who seemed to have perfect lives made me feel bad. To think my life did not look like that, after all, I do not have the energy, or the money to go out every night, or countless friends whom I can rely on for anything.

Nonetheless, I quickly learned that what these people portray is not reality, none of us are permanently happy. However, it’s hard to not be negatively influenced by this constant portrayal of a fake and unattainable lifestyle. When struggling with mental health, some students do not have the support that they need or someone to rely on in difficult times. This is partly because we all want to act like we’re always perfect and happy. And it can be very difficult to have to handle all these emotions by yourself.

The struggles that come with leaving your home and being alone in a new city are not what most of us were thinking of when considering studying abroad. Nevertheless, we’ve all had to deal with (bigger or smaller) problems regarding our mental health.  It is a fact that mental health is not as taboo as it was in the past, nowadays we can openly talk about our issues. However, when moving to a new city and attempting to make friends, we all know it might not be the perfect topic to start with.

In this article, we will see how mental health problems impacted different students, and in which ways they have learned to deal with them.

So, what do you do when you find yourself experiencing mental health issues that are getting in the way of living a normal life, and you’re far from home?

As much as we all wish there was a quick fix for these problems, solving these issues takes time and effort. 

In the means of getting more insight on the topic and to show how common these issues are among students, we created a questionnaire on mental health which was answered by students who struggle (or have struggled) with different types of mental health problems or disorders. The questions were about which issues they had dealt with, how they dealt with them, and how seasonal depression affected their mental stability. 

The most common issues among students are anxiety and loneliness, followed by depression and addiction. For most of them, this has been caused by a change of environment where some felt alienated and alone, school stress surrounding deadlines and work, and constant weed use or drug abuse.

When asked about what helped them improve their situation, there was a constant term highlighted by most participants: “Ask for help”. Most students found that opening up to family members or close friends helped them understand their problems better and to realize they should not be ashamed of them. This also helps in realizing it might be an option to look for professional help. Loads of participants said that seeing a psychologist or getting counseling made them realize where these problems came from, and how to deal with them. This is especially important for people struggling with serious mental illnesses that impact their daily lives.

Most participants also found it essential to mention that it does get better with time, but if you feel like the situation is not getting better, ask for professional help. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.

Regarding seasonal depression, students reported that they felt the lack of sunlight had a negative effect on their mood; lack of motivation and energy, loneliness, and depression. Especially for students coming from warm countries, we do not know how to deal with what can seem like a never-ending dutch winter.

However, different things work for different people. What helps most students feel better, according to our questionnaire,  is seeing friends, not letting themselves be isolated at home, sticking to a routine and being constant with it, and talking to trusted friends or professionals about these problems. The key message is that sharing and talking about these problems is essential.

I’ve personally been dealing with anxiety for some time since my first year, to the point where it has gotten in the way of my studies and my well-being. Talking to friends definitely helped, however, it was through psychotherapy that  I learned that my anxiety came from unsolved issues that went back several years. Unpacking these issues and working on myself was very important to find peace and put my anxiety to rest. I cannot say that my issues are completely solved, they come and go, but they have gotten much better with time. What I essentially learned is that I had to ask for help and keep working on getting better. 

I hope these experiences have shown these struggles are unfortunately way too common. And to those battling mental health problems, I want to say that you are not alone and that it gets better. I truly hope you find the peace that you deserve.