‘We’ll never know the root cause of depression’

More and more students seem to be dealing with mental health issues. Is there an epidemic

The plan was drawn up by the Director of Student Affairs, Joop Matthijsse, at the request of the Rector, Rutger Engels. The document states that the university has already organised several events and initiatives that can be considered student wellbeing boosters, such as Eureka Week (which is designed to make students feel welcome) and the services provided by the student psychologists. This plan is intended to be a ‘broader approach’.

A study published by the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that 20 percent of students deal with psychological problems, e.g. mood swings, anxiety, burnout symptoms or addiction. No Rotterdam-specific studies have been carried out yet, but according to the plan drawn up by Matthijsse, ‘conversations with students’ have shown that many EUR students are experiencing such problems as well. The students also identified several underlying causes in those conversations, e.g. the university’s emphasis on excellence, compulsory course attendance, their own ambitions, and the language and culture barriers experienced by international students.


The new plans are designed to ensure that students feel safer on campus and that they get better at dealing with stress. Furthermore, EUR seeks to make international students more aware of the opportunities afforded by the Dutch health care system. Therefore, the university has included both students’ mental health and their physical health in its plans, as well as the social environment.

Approximately 25 persons were interviewed before the plans were drawn up, ranging from the diversity officer Semiha Denktas and a GP working near the university to Wies Keijzer of the Rotterdam Chamber of Associations, which represents the Rotterdam student associations. EUR itself is not planning on conducting any studies on students’ mental health for the time being. “We are not conducting a broad survey right now,” said Rutger Engels. “The minister is conducting a study on Dutch students’ mental health. In addition, the data currently available are enough grounds to take action.”

Dealing with ‘shit’

The university hopes many students will benefit from its new plans – not just students who are already struggling. “I’m a strong proponent of prevention,” says the Rector. “This means you must get to students before they drop out, or before they take a turn for the worse. To achieve this, we’ll need an approach that will allow us to prepare large groups of students for dealing with stress, for dealing with ‘shit’ – in other words, with things that aren’t going as well as you’d like them to go.”

“To some extent, the plans are part of the Additional Investments Agreement we entered into with the Ministry of Education. We’ll be granted millions of additional euros by the Ministry over the next few years to implement that agreement,” says Engels. It is not yet clear how much the university will invest in student wellbeing, as the plans need some further detailing. “But we didn’t have this document drafted and assessed and discussed with the University Council only to say, ‘let’s not actually implement it’. We’re not going to let that happen,” promises Engels.


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