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  • Ridge Michiels

It's OK not to be OK: talking helps

Loes Van Poecke (student in environmental sciences)

"Every Monday from 7.30 pm until 9.30 pm, our Start to Talk online support group for students opens its doors Since 2017, we have more or less become a subsidiary of BeMSA, meeting once a month. Before COVID-19, we used to organise physical meetings… Now, much like everyone else, we’ve had to adapt and we’ve switched to Discord. We now organise weekly sessions, instead of meeting once a month. But the concept is very much the same: everyone is welcome, regardless of how big or small your problem may seem.

Did you know that 1 out of every 4 students is at risk of being depressed? This percentage is far too high. And as students, we are more susceptible, because we have to combine so many different things. It’s all even more difficult for us in times like these. We are given a lot of responsibility and for some of us it’s all too much… There’s nothing wrong with admitting that it’s too much. And it can do you a world of good when someone listens to you, without judging you.

Today we are needed more than ever. We don’t offer ready-made solutions to the students who come knocking. We don’t need to. The main thing is that you start to talk when you can’t cope any longer. Not everyone has people that they can rely on when they can’t manage. Breaking through the stigma that is attached can also be difficult. And people often forget that every problem is still a problem, regardless of whether it’s ‘just a small problem’.

We want our support group to be available to every student. You can log in to Discord with an anonymous account. You will then be assigned to a small group, with no more than seven other students. Every group is supervised by two moderators, who were trained by the student psychologists of Ghent University. The moderators also keep in touch with other organisations, to refer students where necessary. As you can see, we really provide a safe environment. The moderators address you, so you don’t have to be afraid about speaking up. People will ask you questions. Everyone gets to have his or her say. Nobody will be hurt.

We hope that the students who need this find their way to our support group. It would be really great if we were able to set up physical support groups in all student cities post-COVID. And naturally, our mission is to break through the stigma that surrounds mental well-being. It's OK not to be OK.

During this period, a group of 14 to 15 people work together in the support group. I also feel rather obligated to focus on my dissertation. You’re not missing out on anything at the moment, so no worries about FOMO – which is nice. What I like about this situation, is that it brings people together, in spite of all the social distancing measures. People have sprung into action to help each other, which makes me feel very hopeful about the future.”

You can find Loes’s support group here. You can also follow it online on Facebook.


This article was written for, an online platform that was created in times of corona at the request of the University of Antwerp.

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