Young people can confide their psychological issues to their peers

Living on your own for the first time, making new friends, going clubbing beyond exhaustion and studying too; many students consider this to be the time of their lives. Achievement pressure, money problems, climate issues, and worrying about your identity are lesser-known parts of student life. “These are issues that students are dealing with today”, says Nynke Boonstra, professor (applied sciences) Healthcare & Innovation in Psychiatry at NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences. “That’s why we offer support at home. Or rather, support at school.”  

Burn-out complaints, achievement pressure and sometimes suicide: the psychological distress among students is high’, the Trouw [Dutch newspaper] printed in November of this year. Where the media are focusing on the high study pressure as a reason behind psychological problems, Nynke Boonstra prefers to look at the bigger picture. “Epidemiological research shows that 75 percent of psychological disorders form around the age of twenty. This is a period in which you are susceptible to developing psychological issues and in which you could really use some extra help.” 

Young Experience Experts Friesland (JEF)

This is why two lecturers from the Social Work programme set up an atelier in the form of a helpdesk in September last year, together with students: Young Experience Experts Friesland (JEF) [Jonge Ervaringdeskundigen Friesland] It is part of the Study Success and Student Well-being atelier. The professorship supports JEF and conducts research. “JEF is an atelier where young people can go and share stories with their peers”, Nynke explains. “The difference with other forms of assistance is that this is a very accessible, low-profile way of asking peers for help.”

High threshold

Research shows that there is a high threshold when it comes to seeking help regarding psychological complaints. Nynke: “You must first go to a general practitioner for a referral. You will then be referred to a mental healthcare institution, which many students think means that you’re crazy. There are often long waiting times and young people have no idea what type of help they can expect. So that’s when you keep your problems to yourself. And that’s exactly what we don’t want to happen.”  

Suitable support

The atelier offers young people the opportunity to come by without an appointment and share their issues with JEF employees; Social Work students. “We match youngsters to an experience expert, both parties are often students here”, Nynke explains. “Employees offer guidance and keep track of the course of action. JEF also organises group meetings that are aimed at several questions surrounding psychological well-being. When it appears that an attendee is in need of additional help, a JEF employee can offer tailor-made assistance.

Prevention is better than cure

Nynke wants to offer easily accessible help for all young people in Friesland, based on JEF’s atelier. “We are currently discussing this with the municipality of Leeuwarden and several parties from the social domain. The idea is to create an @EASE facility. We aim to prevent innocent problems from becoming serious complaints. Prevention is better than cure; especially in psychiatrics.”

Nynke Boonstra is professor (applied sciences) at Healthcare & Innovation in Psychiatry at NHL Stenden University of Applied Sciences. Additionally, she works as a clinical nurse specialist in the Early Intervention Psychosis team of GGZ Friesland [mental healthcare Friesland].