Caring Universities: online support when you face problems
Today, 4 November, is the start of the third edition of Well-being Week at Maastricht University. The week focuses on several themes related to the physical and mental well-being of students and staff at UM. You can sign up for more than 40 (interactive) lectures, workshops and other activities at several venues in the inner city and in Randwyck. The week will end with some great news: UM will be joining the Caring Universities project. UM psychologist Véronique Vancauwenbergh has more.
Caring Universities is embedded within the World Health Organisation college student mental health surveys (WHM-ICS), led by Harvard Medical School. WHM-ICS is an international initiative that aims at improving knowledge on university students’ mental well-being. More knowledge about this topic is important: once we know the needs of students, we may be able to prevent mental problems. Knowledge also contributes to early detection and treatment.
Véronique Vancauwenbergh leads the Caring Universities project at UM: “With Caring Universities, we will offer students online modules that can help them work on their problems. The first module, for example, which becomes available end of this week, will support students in the field of anxiety and depression. These are complaints we often encounter in practice.”
For all students
What happens with the data collected from the surveys? “We receive them here at UM, anonymously of course, but they also go to Harvard. There, the data of numerous students are collected and analysed. Both for us at UM and for the bigger picture, this information is very important. It shows us which problems students worldwide are facing.”
With this information, we can tailor our support even more to the wishes and needs of students,” says Vancauwenbergh. Moreover, at UM it is not necessary to fill in the survey before you can open a module. “We wanted to make the modules available to all students, not only the ones that filled in the survey.” UM is not the only university in the Netherlands that has joined Caring Universities. Leiden, Utrecht and the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (driving force behind the project in our country) also participate.
Where and when you want
How does it work, online treatment? Vancauwenbergh: “Imagine you suffer from anxiety and constantly worry about your studies and other matters. You cannot relax anymore and concentrating is nearly impossible. Then, you can go to a UM psychologist and speak about your problems. Unfortunately, sometimes there are waiting lists, although we do everything to keep these as short as possible. Also, regular appointments will be planned.”
“You can also choose online support. You can start that immediately and use it wherever and whenever you want, independent from a therapist. You describe your problem, set targets and work on solutions. The treatments are effective, especially when they are delivered with some kind of guidance. Research findings have shown that the mode of delivery, internet versus face-to-face, does not influence the outcomes.”
At UM, Caring Universities will start in the spring of 2020. However, on 7 November, directly after the Well-being Week closing event, the first module will become available. “It complements our work and allows us to offer blended support. Especially for prevention, the modules are very important. Examples include people who find it difficult to go visit a psychologist. The modules address the complaints that we hear from most students who come to us for help. Therefore, I hope that we will be able to help even more people with these modules.”
Student psychologist is a beautiful profession, says Vancauwenbergh. “I never have the feeling that I did not make a difference. Often, for the student it is a matter just of being heard. And then it is very important when someone can contextualize and normalize your story. Knowing that you are not alone with your problems and that others are facing the same things is already a great relief. Students are in a phase in their life where they have to work on themselves. We and Caring Universities can help them with that."
Photography: Ann de Wulf
UM psychologist Véronique Vancauwenbergh