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Remco van Veluwen Photo by Reyer Boxem

Why it’s so hard to seek therapy

Just go already

Remco van Veluwen Photo by Reyer Boxem
Stress, pandemic frustrations, and personal issues took their toll on student editor Remco van Veluwen. But he refused to get help for the longest time. Why is it so hard to take that step?
22 February om 15:42 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 23 February 2022
om 10:15 uur.
February 22 at 15:42 PM.
Last modified on February 23, 2022
at 10:15 AM.
Avatar photo

Door Remco van Veluwen

22 February om 15:42 uur.
Laatst gewijzigd op 23 February 2022
om 10:15 uur.
Avatar photo

By Remco van Veluwen

February 22 at 15:42 PM.
Last modified on February 23, 2022
at 10:15 AM.
Avatar photo

Remco van Veluwen

Studentredacteur Volledig bio Student editor Full bio

Everyone’s going through a hard time, you’re just being a wuss. This thought had been plaguing me for months. I haven’t had an easy year: my relationship ended suddenly in the summer, my broken heart tore me up for days, and the everlasting Covid restrictions only served to exacerbate my sadness. I felt lonely, stressed out, and misunderstood. I was miserable to my roommates. 

At the same time, I didn’t want to burden the people around me by asking for help. I preferred to just shut out the rest of the world. Surely my worries would end eventually?

After a few months, I finally began to realise that waiting it out wasn’t the solution I’d hoped for and that I might be better off asking for help after all. But I didn’t want to see a therapist. Even when various friends urged me to go, saying that I should just try it, that it would work, I was too stubborn and kept putting it off. Needing therapy felt like a defeat.

Don’t be a wuss

Twenty-five-year-old American studies student Maranke van den Boogaard knows the feeling. She saw a therapist for the first time in 2018, but it had taken her a long time to screw up the courage. She didn’t want to talk about her issues with friends or family and pretended they didn’t exist. ‘I thought I was being a wuss. I’ve always had a hard time talking about my emotions, and I thought personal problems were private.’

I always thought personal problems were private

In the end, she was doing so poorly that she had to do something. Her parents played an especially large role. ‘They told me to just go to my GP and talk about it, and that there was no shame in seeing a therapist.’ Her father had been to see one himself once. When she finally did go, it turned out to be ‘really helpful’, she says.

Veerle van der Put (22) also dragged her feet for the longest time. She’s serving on the board of E Pluribus Unum, the study association for American studies, and noticed she had a hard time accomplishing tasks. Her reticence had to do with an earlier experience with therapy when she was fifteen years old. 

Not that she’d had a bad experience, but she figured since she’d been once before, she didn’t need to go again. ‘I’m a different person now, but it felt like going back to a place I’d managed to leave behind and wasn’t keen to return to’, Veerle explains. 

‘Because of the pandemic, I also figured I wasn’t the only one with issues. We’re all in the same shitty situation. Why would I have the privilege of going to a therapist when others don’t?’ She finally managed to push those thoughts aside, but it did take her a few months.

Hesitant

According to Floor Duursma-Wolters, psychologist at Psychologenpraktijk Stad Groningen, it’s not at all uncommon for students to feel hesitant about going to therapy. Students especially feel like they should be able to work it out themselves, she says. They often consider issues from different sides and are used to solving problems themselves. ‘They get by on their own, so they tend to think that psychological issues will just go away. They unjustly think that they can easily tackle this.’

There’s nothing wrong when you’re feeling sad. You need support

Psychologist Jan Philip Wieringa with Praktijk Hoek Melkweg in town thinks there’s another reason: mental healthcare has become a medical issue, as though there’s something wrong with people that can be cured. But therapists also have great listening skills, he emphasises, that can help people make sense of things. ‘There’s nothing wrong with you if you’re feeling sad. You need support.’ If more people saw it that way, ‘the stigma would disappear’.

It’s not uncommon for students to experience mental distress. Many students run into issues dealing with stress, anxiety, loneliness, and sadness. Various studies have shown that the pandemic has only made this worse. 

The symptoms often lead to passivity, trouble making decisions, trouble planning, feelings of shame and guilt, and loss of income, StressWise therapist Daniella Waley sums up. ‘All these things make it even harder for students to seek help.’

Waiting list

I finally bit the bullet and did. But talking to my GP, I quickly realise that I’m not there yet. Even a ‘quick’ meeting with a nurse practitioner takes a month to schedule. Wait times at psychologists who aren’t part of a larger institute are even longer. 

If only I hadn’t kept putting it off.

Veerle says the long wait times are all the more reason to do something now. Waiting lists can be scary and demotivating, which means people keep trying to muddle through on their own. She kept putting off seeing a therapist for the very same reason, but then her issues only got worse. ‘I kept blaming myself for not going. Because I felt so guilty, I figured I could stand to wait a bit longer. It was a downward spiral.’

Last year, the UG decided to hire extra student psychologists. According to student psychologists Sjoukje van Warners, the wait times for an intake meeting at the university’s Student Service Centre have been drastically reduced. Students now have to wait approximately three weeks before a spot opens up. ‘When you sign up, you know your appointment is coming up. That can be something to hold on to’, says Van Warners.

Worse

The SSC psychologists are there to provide accessible help. Nevertheless, many students are still hesitant to take action. ‘But things are rarely improved by waiting. They usually get worse’, says Duursma-Wolters. Usually, once people finally do ask for help, they’re in serious need of it, she explains. That’s why those long wait times are so detrimental.

Usually, once people finally do ask for help, they’re in serious need of it

Since students are generally pretty good at self-reflecting and often only need a few sessions for their symptoms to either go away or improve, she says, it’s a shame this particular group has to wait so long.

Personally, I’m in luck. A spot has opened up with a therapist in town, which means I’m scheduled for an intake this week. Immediately, a weight is lifted off my shoulder.

Maranke would absolutely recommend therapy, she says. It helped her a lot. ‘I understand it can be hard to take that step. It was really difficult for me, too. But once you get started, it can do so much good.’

Veerle would also encourage students with mental issues to seek help. What’s more: ‘Everyone could do with a periodical mental health check, really.’

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