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Students falling apart

Can UG deal with loss and depression?

Photo by Kat Jayne from Pexels
What if you lose a parent? Or have to deal with depression? Often, the university doesn’t seem equipped to help students who are really in trouble. ‘I asked for the bare minimum and they made me feel like I was asking for too much.’
By Şilan Çelebi
8 December om 15:11 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 9 December 2020
om 14:19 uur.
December 8 at 15:11 PM.
Last modified on December 9, 2020
at 14:19 PM.

Alice had made a regular appointment with one of the study advisors. She sat in the red chair across a mostly unfamiliar face and explained her situation. ‘I’m sorry for your loss’, said the unfamiliar face, ‘are you okay?’ But Alice didn’t know how she felt. She placed her father’s death certificate on the table. ‘I’m okay’, she replied. 

Alice recently graduated with a bachelor’s degree in international and European law. During her first year, her father passed away, and she went to her study advisors for help. ‘I was lucky to be okay’, she says, ‘and honestly, the university is also lucky that I was okay.’ Though she is hesitant about sharing her real name for this article, she strongly believes that things need to change. ‘What if the next person who walks into that office falls apart completely?’ 

‘When I told the study advisor that my father passed away, she looked more scared than I did’, Alice explains. ‘I asked her to talk to my professors about missing some of my mandatory classes.’ Unfortunately, Alice was left disappointed. ‘I had to go through it all over again with my professors so that I didn’t lose my bonus point for attendance. I asked for the bare minimum and they made me feel like I was asking for too much.’


Aske, a former student of history at the university, thinks that the university is kind of like a factory. ‘If you take too long to graduate, they think you’re broken. They would rather throw out all the defective products, but they can’t. But that’s only because we aren’t actual products.’ 

They would rather throw out all the defective products, but they can’t

She has been depressed for a very long time. ‘I couldn’t go to the last six months of high school because I was too sick.’ When she began studying at university, the excitement of a fresh start made her feel better for a while. Aske studied English language and culture for six months, until ‘the pressure got to me and I slipped away again’. During that time, her study advisor really tried to help. ‘I went there before I slipped away and told them that I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, but that I really wanted to try.’ Unfortunately, things didn’t work out, and Aske dropped out of the programme.  

She took a few years to get herself back on track and went back to study history. ‘It was the same story. I think the study advisors want to help you, but don’t really have a way to.’ She went to them early and explained her situation; they told her to contact her teachers and make arrangements with them.

When things got particularly bad, she tried to extend her studies for a year. ‘I had to fill out all these forms and when I got home, I had to fill out more forms and communicate with all these people.’ At the time, she wasn’t equipped to deal with that. ‘When you don’t have any energy, having to do more in order to do less is not really a solution’, she explains. 

Study advisors

When things go wrong, students at the university are told to contact their study advisors. But they can only do so much. They can check up on you and refer you to the student psychologists, they can help you get an extension on your BSA, and help you cut through some of the red tape at the university. But is that enough? It appears that the student psychologists are understaffed and underequipped to deal with the various problems. So where can students go when they’re going through more than just a rough patch?

Yoana, a bachelor student of international relations and organisations, experienced a similar situation when her father was diagnosed with cancer in November of 2019. 

The study advisors want to help you, but don’t really have a way to

After she found out her father was ill, Yoana went home, but decided to fly back to Groningen to sit her exams. In between classes, exam preparation, and her parents telling her everything was going to be all right, her head was swimming. ‘I had to come back because I had a resit at the end of January, but I was devastated. I had no idea how I was going to take my exam when I wasn’t even in the condition to think.’ 

Yoana’s study advisor suggested that she go to the student psychologist. ‘When I went there, I wanted to share so much. I knew that the loss was coming.’ 

‘Life sucks’

She spent thirteen minutes in the student psychologist’s office. Yoana had booked an entire session, but when the psychologist stared at her blankly and said ‘life sucks’, she was shocked. The student psychologist told her that she could go to a workshop for academic stress management. ‘That is not what I was trying to manage, disease and loss is different.’ She left the office.  

Fortunately for her, her study advisors did step up. They made it possible for her to do her internship, take classes online and go back home to support her family. ‘They lobbied for my interests with the board of examiners and my professors. They were really helpful.’ 

They should have been there to tell me that when I needed to hear it

But the problem is, you have to be lucky. ‘If I was the dean, I would fire all of the student psychologists’, she explains. ‘I remember checking and seeing that they were booked three months ahead.’ She can’t even imagine what it would be like to wait three months for an appointment and then receive a response like the one she got. ‘I know life sucks. But I also know that life goes on, and they should have been there to tell me that when I needed to hear it.’

Aske wasn’t lucky at all. She made it through two years of her studies, but her mental health was deteriorating. ‘The exams were a lot of pressure and my body reacts physically to stress.’ She would have fainting spells and wake up hours later. ‘They can give you extra time, but they can’t give you another shot at the exams.’ When she couldn’t make it into the exams, she gave up. 

Into the deep end

‘They throw you into the deep end’, she says. ‘You go to the study advisors and explain that things are about to go sideways. They tell you to tell them when things go sideways. But by then it’s already too late.’ She understands that they can’t really do anything sooner, but when you have to work towards fixing things when you have no energy, students like Aske don’t stand a chance. Even when they really want to make things work. 

Alice understands that study advisors may not know what to do with all the different problems that students face, ‘but then there should be a system in place, they should be trained, or have a mental health professional with them’. 

Everyone knows that the student psychologists are always overwhelmed and booked weeks or months in advance. ‘Where else is there? Is there a system in place for us?’ she asks.

Aske adds that she would have benefited from having a study coach. ‘I’m all for independence, but everyone needs help sometimes. There are life coaches, why not have study coaches for students that need a helping hand?’

At the very least, Yoana thinks the psychologist could have been kind, or set up a follow-up meeting. ‘All I got was an email that said, thank you for attending our meeting and I hope everything develops well. I think sharing is caring; if I can help somebody not waste their time with going to the student psychologists, then I’m happy.’ 

She wants to raise awareness. ‘Everybody thinks there is no problem until it escalates. What about the student who committed suicide?’ Yoana asks the UG: ‘If this isn’t a problem, then what is?’

Do you need help? Please contact the 113 Suicide Prevention Foundation at 0900-0113 (available 24/7) and / or