Friday 7 October - The mental well-being of students is a top priority at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. Through a diverse and layered programme of support, VUB provides every student with the appropriate preventive measures to increase their resilience and mental health. In recent years, VUB has expanded its offer, which in turn has led to an increased demand for help from the student population.
The number of VUB students taking advantage of free psychological assistance increases every year. In 2019, 2,520 students received counselling from a student psychologist. That number rose to 3,283 in 2020 and 3,700 in 2021.
According to Rebecca Léonard, student psychologist and student welfare project officer at VUB, this is mainly due to the reduced taboo around seeking psychological help. “It is true that more and more students are coming to us, not only for individual counselling but also for our workshops and our self-help material. Psychological help is becoming more and more negotiable, which we can only welcome.”
To meet the rising demand, the university has appointed more free student psychologists on the Etterbeek campus. This service offers each student up to eight free individual sessions. As an extra boost for the most vulnerable and because of the long waiting times for subsidised counselling, the Caroline Pauwels Emergency Fund for Students reimburses psychological help from a recognised psychologist or service for diagnostics, group or individual support.
Diverse and layered offer
Besides psychological support, the university also offers many other initiatives and services to work preventively and reactively on students’ resilience. These wary from help with studying and training about fear of failure and exam stress, to counselling with a free student psychologist or referral to external specialised services via the Caroline Pauwels Emergency Fund. Here, the student chooses individual or group counselling. Tailored counselling is paramount, because every request for help is different.
To adapt its offer to students’ changing needs, VUB undertakes various initiatives. For example, it participates in the Flemish government’s welfare monitor, an annual survey of students’ well-being. It uses the data from this survey to adjust its own welfare policy and offerings.
The university also focuses on research into mental well-being, such as via the new Life Skills chair, with Prof Dr Elke Van Hoof. As a scientific researcher, she is an authority on stress, work resumption, trauma and burn-out. The research group focuses on strengthening resilience and empowerment, including among students. They explore how students cope in rapidly changing circumstances and how they can feel connected in today’s hybrid world. The aim is to arrive at a programme that guides students in such matters.
Caroline Pauwels Emergency Fund for Students
Financial, material, social or psychological concerns can have a major impact on students’ mental well-being and, consequently, their study results.
To ensure equal educational opportunities for all students, the late honorary rector Caroline Pauwels established the Caroline Pauwels Emergency Fund for Students at VUB in 2020. Monies from this structural fund are used to provide students in need with the support they require to continue their studies without concerns and ensure that no talent goes to waste.