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Hands on approach to improve mental health issues among students in the Netherlands

“Sparking curiosity, will, and heart for the creation of a more open and safer environment to address mental health challenges.”

In the beginning of this semester our team was considering a range of different topics to work on. These ideas were ranging from working on economic affairs, the political situation to human trafficking, child labour and promoting women’s rights. However, as we were desperately trying to find consensus on a topic, we came across an interesting article on mental health issue among students during an epidemic. Suddenly, we were all on the same page and found our collective enthusiasm. This was the beginning of a highly interesting, and certainly unforgettable learning journey.

During the Explore phase, we were evaluating multiple scenarios for the project and final product we wanted to create. After an extensive research phase, we were again trying to find a common ground, this time on our approach. Our shared preference of working together with and for students our age, thereby helped to narrow the geographical scope from Europe to the Netherlands. One of the main reasons why we wanted to work with students, is the worrying statistic that ¾ of all mental health issues are developed by humans between the age of 18-24. Surprising insights also provided a short online survey that we developed, with 130 people participating. This particular survey was designed to back up our research findings from academic literature and quantify other relevant open questions. The findings indicated that 90% of all students experienced mental health issues at some point during their higher education; 2/3 of the participants did not reach out for help; and 83% stated that the Covid-19 situation represented an additional burden to their mental well-being.

In the next step, the team laid out a concise and sophisticated plan to identify and reach out to the most relevant stakeholder groups. The most important stakeholders were students themselves, campus psychologists, and organizations like PsyQ, Studentenwerke as well as Marita Coppes. We connected and spoke with these groups through either interviews or focus group discussions. Interestingly, at the end, all our conversations came to similar conclusions. The status quo of mental health services at institutions of higher education needs to be enhanced, and mental health issues destigmatized. In the aftermath of our research, we realized that for us the best way to create value is by developing tools that students can utilize to remain in good mental health, preventing struggles in the first place.

Finally, after multiple meetings we decided to create two different value products. One being a poster with information on the topic that we distributed among institutions of higher education in the Netherlands, including a QR code that students can scan to receive further information. Our second value product was an online mental health workshop, aiming to provide an open discussion platform.

With promising feedback on our toolbox posters and the execution of the workshop, we do hope and anticipate that our value products create long-lasting impact on the lives of dozens, hopefully hundreds of students across the entirety of Dutch institutions of higher learning. We hope that with the information, sources, skill development and personal insights we provided, our products help students to find the courage and support needed to make the often-intimidating step of reaching out for help (for example to counsellor, close friend- or family member, or a licensed expert). Furthermore, through the engaging and activating of our target audience, we hope to have sparked a curiosity, will, and heart for the creation of a more open and safer environment to openly share and talk about experiences. By having done so, we further hope to have contributed to the de-stigmatization of the topic of mental health and those affected by it. We ideally believe to have contributed to the creation of a more inclusive, supportive, and emotionally developed society.

Finally, we dare to be optimistic that our greatly appreciated stakeholders will continue to share our enthusiasm in their own valuable ways.

In conclusion, we went through an insightful and exciting learning journey. Not only did we learn a lot of technical information on the topic of psychology and mental health, but also team development and sustainable value choices.

Vincent Rochow

Tom Gevers

Luka Westgeest

Floris Bosch

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