All Ears: Supporting Students Through the Hard Times

Are you having a hard time coping with the pandemic, loneliness, or your mental health in general?  This week Kevin interviews Hendrik Timmer from All Ears to discuss mental health and ways to improve it. 

Could you introduce yourself to us? Who are you exactly and what is your function/position within All Ears?

My name is Hendrik Timmer. I’ve lived in Groningen since the start of my studies. After graduating with my master’s in psychology, I started working at IFES, an international student organisation. Currently, I’m mostly working with international students. In ways that can vary from connecting internationals and Dutch and coaching people in cross-cultural communication skills to having deeply personal conversations about questions regarding the meaning of life. I really enjoy the diversity of it! One part of my work is being involved with All Ears. I’m one of the persons you might meet when you come to our walk-in hours, make an appointment or start a chat via the website.

Could you tell us more about All Ears, what is it exactly and what do they do?

We love to listen! All Ears gives students the opportunity to share things they face that are challenging or give questions. It’s not always easy to find opportunities or people to safely share personal and vulnerable things with. While keeping it for yourself often makes it harder. We see that sharing those things with someone who actively listens and helps you understand and think through it is so helpful!

Why did you decide to become an All Ears worker? What motivated you to do so?

I love connecting to people and I love personal conversations. I’ve seen for myself that when I dared to be open to others it has been most helpful for me and I learned a lot. I love to give students the opportunity too.

How can I tell if I’m having mental health problems, how do I recognize it?

It is not easy to say when you have a mental health ‘problem’ and I think it’s not helpful to focus on whether you have a problem or not. It’s very normal for everyone to have highs and lows in how you feel. And if the lows stay longer than you are used to it’s not directly something to worry about. What is important though is to be open about how you feel with people you trust and look for help if you think you need to. Keeping it all for yourself can be the real problem.

What can I do when someone in my environment is struggling with mental health?

Be available for the person, listen, try to understand. Don’t come up with quick solutions, which often works counterproductive, but let the person feel heard. Encourage someone to ask for professional help if you see the person is struggling. Do something relaxing together that can help the person focus on something else for a bit.

The COVID-19 pandemic obviously influences the mental health of many, have more people started to seek help regarding mental health because of this?

Yes, although we wish more people would come. Because we know that there are a lot of students who isolate themselves more during the pandemic when their mental health goes down.

How do you think the taboo surrounding mental health problems can be broken?

By realising you are strong if you dare to share challenges you face. People still perceive themselves as weak or shameful if they struggle with their mental health. Or they are so focused on being successful that they think there is no place for failure and vulnerability in that. While part of being human and part of growing in character is daring to be vulnerable.

What do you think is the biggest trigger for mental health problems in our society these days? (besides just COVID)

Loneliness. That could be social loneliness in the sense of missing connections but also emotional loneliness. You might have a lot of people you are in touch with, but you miss deep personal heart-to-heart connections.

Do you have some general tips regarding mental health issues, what can you do to improve mental health, especially in times like these?

Make time for activities that are meaningful to you. Keep a healthy structure in your day. Plan a rhythm in times you study and rest. Keep going outside for walks or bike rides. Stay physically active and work out. Continue reaching out to friends and family, even if you cannot meet.

Lastly, if someone is struggling with mental health problems, or if they have questions in general regarding All Ears, how can they reach you?

Check http://www.allearsgroningen.nl/ or send an email to info@allearsgroningen.nl. These days we can plan an online appointment. Besides that every Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday from 2 – 4 pm you can chat with me or a colleague via the site!

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