Moving to a foreign country with a different language, culture and demanding educational system can put students under unbearable stress. But many students who seek mental support in Groningen are facing a months-long wait for an appointment.
Oscar removes three different pill bottles from his bag, explaining that medication has become a part of his routine of living with depression and anxiety disorders. “I get really distracted by my own stomach so I can’t focus on conversation. I always become very, very quiet. I can’t feel my hands; it feels like needles are pinching my hands.”
For Oscar, a Taiwanese student who asked that The Northern Times not share his last name, says that everything started when he moved to Japan for a year: “Their culture, everything regarding treating others is really harsh. They are harsh with each other, so they also extend that view to foreigners,” he says. Once he understood Japanese, Oscar says he could hear people criticizing him and was regularly discriminated against for his looks. He started taking medication for his anxiety and depression soon thereafter, and he says that his conditions can be crippling.
Now that he is living in Groningen, Oscar says that he feels that he is improving: “I’ve made a lot of friends and I feel this town very comfortable. I get less nervous, I try to avoid crowded places, but I still go to the party street (Poelestraat),” he jokes.
Nevertheless, being a student still means taking exams and attending lectures, which remain sources of anxiety. “When I go to school or the supermarket, I need to take my pills because it’s a closed space with a lot of people and I feel nervous,” he says. During one exam, he asked for a separate seat from his classmates. “I wanted to be separated and surrounded by emptiness, not by people.”
Oscar, like many students, has sought professional support from the University of Groningen’s Student Service Center, but he was disappointed to discover that there was a 2 to 3 month wait before he could get an appointment. “I would probably die if I had to wait for three months,” Oscar says.
The University of Groningen has resources for internationals and Dutch students alike who are seeking support. In most cases, study advisors can offer help related to their studies and their academic achievements. However, if a student needs mental support, they are directed to the professionals from the psychology department of the university, that work for the Student Service Centre.
Waiting two months for an appointment
But getting help at the Student Service Center is easier said than done. The demand for mental health is so high that students in need have to book their appointments two months in advance. To improve the situation, Jorien Bakker, a spokesperson from the University of Groningen, says that the center has hired more people in the hopes of being able to offer appointments for students within two weeks long waiting lists at the student psychologists.
The current wait times “could have serious implications for their health and studies,” says Berend Roorda from SKLO (Studentenkoepel Levensbeschouwlijke Organisaties), the union for philosophically-inclined student associations. Roorda says that for international students specifically, their studies and integration in Dutch society are major sources of pressure. According to Roorda and Bakker, high academic demands and peer and family pressure can push internationals to their limits and prompt them to seek professional help. On top of that, internationals also have to deal with the anxiety of finding a room and settling down in a foreign city, which Roorda says makes them more prone to psychological problems as loneliness, stress, and burn-outs.
In response to the growing demand, Roorda is part of a new SKLO initiative called All Ears, which allows students to speak to someone outside of their social circle about their problems. Although some of the complaints students have would be better addressed by a psychologist, “some students might have a weight lifted off their shoulders by being able to talk to someone,” Roorda says. All Ears has nine student employees who take turns being a listening ear for their fellow students on Wednesdays from 2 to 4 pm at the Harmonie building.