The Personal Support Hub (PSH) is facing challenges in reaching student participation, despite offering a variety of services with the help of qualified professionals – from career coaches to psychologists, and even a spiritual counsellor. The wellbeing centre officially opened its doors on the ground floor of the Langeveld building one year ago, in the spring of 2023.

About the Personal Support Hub

The Personal Support Hub (PSH) is the central location on campus for student wellbeing and development at EUR. It offers free walk-in consultations with professionals, workshops, and a space to relax and connect with peers. Located in the Langeveld building, next to the Living Room, the PSH is open on weekdays from 11.00 to 17.00. You can find their event calendar on the Personal Support Hub’s page or by following their social media. 

Seeking help is still a ‘taboo’

In her position as health coach at the PSH, Anne-Fleur Kok has experienced the low levels of engagement from students first-hand. Since September, she provides individual walk-in consultation hours every two weeks, where students can ask any kinds of questions regarding substance use. “Students can come to me with questions like ‘what’s in an ecstasy pill?’”, the health coach explains. This includes asking for information or support on substance abuse, but also gaming, gambling, screentime, or even concerns about a friend or family member.

So far, Anne-Fleur acknowledges that students seem reluctant to actively seek help. “They’ve gone through the walk-in hours and asked me different questions but didn’t reach me for having a conversation one on one”, she says. The health coach believes that this lack of participation is due to fear that teachers or peers might ‘find out’, because ‘there is still taboo’ around mental health.

Even so, Anne-Fleur emphasises that the PSH is a safe space and that, despite being in a university setting, everything that students share ‘stays between four walls’. Right now, her ‘focus’ is that ‘students and also teachers, and other employees of the university’ get to know her. “I’m showing my face everywhere”, she says, adding that she has been attending different student events to make sure that everyone is aware of the PSH’s services.

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“We walk around campus with a big canvas, and we ask students to anonymously write something that has to do with a theme such as stigma or taboo”, says Sara Borelli (left). Image credit: Tyna Le

Initiatives around campus

Reaching out for help can be difficult, and many students are not aware of the support system offered. Prevention psychologist Sara Borrelli has also been making an effort to get closer to the students through awareness campaigns. The Sticky Thoughts is one of those initiatives. “We walk around campus with a big canvas, and we ask students to anonymously write something that has to do with a theme that may still be stigmatized or found taboo”, the psychologist explains.  This way, students are shown that they are not alone.

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Topics such as stress management, coping with fear, or overcoming challenges have been of interest to students and later turned into the Brain Food workshops organised at the PSH. These sessions are a condensed version of the trainings they offer, in which the PSH provides food for the students to eat. “We use lunch as a bit of a motivator”, Sara says, mentioning that the food is free, and everyone can just drop by to participate in a group discussion. There, students can share their experiences and receive handouts with information on various coping techniques for stress, such as breathing exercises.

The psychologist explains how these sessions can be ‘intimate’, with one time only four students attending, which is ‘not a big number’. However, “sometimes that’s enough to make an impact”, Sara says, reinforcing the ‘sense of community’ experienced at the PSH.

The dangers of student culture

One of the biggest challenges Anne-Fleur faces is getting students to recognise that they need counselling.  Drinking alcohol is deeply ingrained in student culture. Particularly among student associations, many students don’t see excessive drinking as a problem. “Just yesterday, I heard that one student drinks fifty beers a week”, she recalls. “That’s not normal, but they all think it’s funny, so why will they reach out to me if they think it’s all fine?” With her work at the PSH, Anne-Fleur aims to educate students about the dangers of addiction and help them make informed decisions.

Sara agrees that student culture can be a barrier to recognizing substance abuse. “Realistically speaking, your student life is a time where you experiment with things, where you go to a lot of parties and the temptation is there”, the psychologist explains, “but how can you do it safely?”. The answer is through information and awareness of the possible consequences of substance use.

Breaking the cycle

The Personal Support Hub is actively working to break this cycle by providing students with different resources. The options include the EUR Unfiltered podcast (Spotify and Apple), workshops organised at the Living Room, and the walk-in consultation hours with Anne-Fleur for a more personalised conversation.