“I think about suicide every day.” So read an anonymous post on Spotted: Maastricht University, a popular Facebook group among the students. Unfortunately, posts like this are not uncommon as many students struggle with emotional and psychological issues while studying in Maastricht; and in my humble opinion, there is an alarming lack of institutional support to help these students in need.
This is an issue that is rather close to my heart as I often find myself in situations where I am incapable of helping those that come to my door seeking help. While I have referred some to the study advisors or the University psychologists – according to the students that I have tried to help over the years – they are usually advised to take fewer courses or they are put on a long waiting-list to see a University psychologist. The crucial role that they play in all of this is undeniable, but these solutions do not truly address the students’ problems at their core, which is why many students often feel abandoned. Some of them even resort to substance abuse or go into seclusion.
Even when students seek help externally, the results are not always positive, especially for international students not familiar with the Dutch healthcare system: For example, a student candidly posted on another Facebook group, Sharing is Caring – Maastricht University, that when she contacted a University psychologist for help, she was told that she would have to wait at least a month for an appointment. To get the help that she desperately needed sooner, the student decided to contact a doctor who informed her that a 10 minute talk would cost €28. Although she was strapped for cash, she decided to go at least once after being informed that the initial consultation would be free. The consultant – who advised her to take time off from studying – subsequently invoiced her for €150 and explained that there was a ‘misunderstanding’.
Some believe that this is not necessarily a problem for the University, but rather something that the students should learn to handle on their own. While I understand the importance of personal accountability, I find this sentiment to be quite unsatisfying. Instead, we ought to acknowledge that this is indeed a communal concern and start a dialogue in the hope that talking about this openly may alleviate some of the stigma that many of our students secretly carry. We have to somehow let them know that they are not alone in all of this.
Mark Kawakami, Assistant Professor Faculty of Law