Feel free to share worries with peers
Stress at school, fights at home, feelings of melancholy, relationship problems—these are all things that many young people have to deal with sometimes. Talking about it helps, but there is not always someone around with whom you can talk. The volunteers of @ease—mostly students—offer a listening ear to young people between ages 12 and 25. “We only let someone leave when the conversation is wrapped up in a good way.”
Lion Soons, who is working on her master's degree in neuropsychology at UM, has been one of the volunteers from the very beginning. “During my third year studying health sciences, I missed the connection with practice. Through volunteer work, I wanted to gain experience and at the same time do something to help society. It feels good to help young people who are struggling.”
@ease is the Dutch version of the Australian initiative Headspace, which has been replicated in several countries. In Maastricht, @ease is located in a comfortably furnished building in the city centre. “@ease is low threshold; anyone can visit without an appointment on a Tuesday or Thursday afternoon”, explains Lion. “Young people with personal questions, worries or psychological complaints can tell their story anonymously and free of charge. Two volunteers conduct the conversation with them. As volunteers, we speak from our own experiences. We see that young people like to share their problems with peers. Afterwards, they are often relieved, happy that they have outlined their problems in detail.”
Complementing each other
Two volunteers are always present during each conversation. “That way, we can complement each other; that's nice”, says Lion. “We first start with an introduction and talk about what the young person can expect. Then, we listen to his or her story and ask questions if necessary. The intention of @ease is that we can help quickly, so that we prevent someone from ending up in a long-term care process. But sometimes their situations are pretty intense. That’s why there is always a professional, such as a psychologist, at @ease who we can fall back on in such a case.”
If there is a really strong need, @ease can refer someone to the crisis service, but otherwise the volunteers only give advice, for example to go to a general practitioner. “The concept meets a need”, says Lion. “Since it started in 2017, more than a hundred young people have visited us. Through our website, flyers at schools and other promotional activities, we try to make @ease even more well-known.”
@ease Maastricht has around 40 volunteers who are up to about 30 years in age. In order to do their job well, they receive a two-day training from a psychologist. They learn conversation techniques and practice what to do in difficult situations. Lion: “Since recently, we also have some English-speaking employees. That’s great, because there are quite a few international students. They don’t know where else they can go with their problems. There is a student psychologist at the university, but the waiting time is long.” UM is aware of this and is working to shorten the waiting time.
Lion found her first conversation with a young person at @ease a bit nerve-wracking. “But it quickly started flowing naturally. Because you’re with peers, the atmosphere is relaxed and you’re soon put at ease. When it’s finished, I can also let it go. This is also because we always wrap up a conversation in a good way. As long as it doesn’t feel right, we won’t let someone leave."
Text: Meyke Houben
Photography: Martijn Weyenberg