Team:KU Leuven/Mental health

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BLADEN mental health

In light of the recent pandemic, the importance of mental health has been highlighted more than ever, be it within the scientific community or students in school. We decided to organize a “KU Leuven mental health week” directly leading up to the World Mental Health Day. The week was filled with informational and interesting lectures/panel discussions, relaxing activities and awareness campaigns. In order to reach more students and have a bigger impact, we decided that it would be best to include multiple other organizations within the university, including iGEM, BeMSA, MindMates, Leuven Mindfulness Center and Green Office. The eventual product was a product of collaboration and hard work.

This week brought various opportunities such as (but not limited to): for the KU Leuven to familiarize and inform the students about all the mental health initiatives/infrastructure that it has in place; to promote and discuss various mental health issues in an academic context, allowing for a better understanding and better perspectives; to organize helpful and fun activities for the students that can aid them in weathering the winter months. Every day consisted of a lecture and/or an activity which was combined with online therapy tips and an online awareness campaign about the mental health of iGEM members and PhD students.

Before starting this campaign, we consulted with multiple experts, including a professor from the university of Antwerp, an ethics researcher and a journalist, on how to tackle a sensitive subject like mental health, and received feedback on our survey questions. One of our two members with communication training, also went to an expert for advice on how to do depths interviews. She learned how to build a conversation towards personal and sensitive questions, and how to react when participants would get emotional. This training was crucial for our confidence during these interviews.

Day 1
Lecture: Mindfulness for a better mind

Together with professor Kathleen Van der Gucht from the Leuven Mindfulness Center (LMC), a lecture was organized covering the effect of mindfulness on a persons mental health. [1] The LMC is a research institution focused on the effectiveness and boundary conditions of mindfulness-based interventions [2]. The lecture focused on research behind mindfulness, but also provided students with exercises to practice at home. [3]

Workshop: Macrame plant hanger

Together with ASA, the Asian Student Association, we organized a relaxing workshop surrounding Macrame plant hangers. This workshop was open to all students from the university. To increase inclusion, we asked no entrance fee for this event and provided students with the materials needed to follow the workshop.

[1] Raes, F., Griffith, J.W., Van der Gucht, K. et al.(2014) School-Based Prevention and Reduction of Depression in Adolescents: a Cluster-Randomized ControlledTrial of a Mindfulness Group Program. Mindfulness5, 477–486
[3] Gál, É., Ștefan, S., & Cristea, I. A. (2021). The efficacy of mindfulness meditation apps in enhancing users' well-being and mental health related outcomes: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of affective disorders, 279, 131–142.

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Day 2

Due to COVID-19, many students have found it difficult to meet new people to got to class with, go sport with or even just talk to. Since loneliness is an important factor to mental health and a very topical subject, it was obvious for us that this had to be part of our mental health awareness week. To solve this, together with BeMSA, we organized a friend-matchmaking service where every student from the university could apply. Students were asked what kind of friendship they were looking for, after this they were brought in contact.

Activity: Guided Stargazing

Under the guidance of professor Leen Decin and three assistants, students were guided on a journey amongst the stars. We hosted numerous students on a field next to Arenberg castle, and were equiped with two high quality telescopes, through which we were able to see details on both Saturn and Jupiter. The goal of this activity was to bring people together. We did this by hosting a lecture in a non-classical environment which allowed students to get comfortable and bond with others sharing the same interests.

Day 3
Lecture: Burn-out in students + overview of KULeuven facilities

Professor Hans De Witte gave a lecture on burn-out in students. What causes it? How do you recognize it? How do you prevent it? By this we want to inform students so they can recognize the symptoms in their peers, thus helping them in an earlier stage. This lecture was followed by a presentation of mental health-related services offered by KU Leuven for it’s students.

Activity: Boardgame night

Together with MindMates, the mental health group of the student offices of KU Leuven, we organized a board-game night where students from all backgrounds could come together to get to know each other in a relaxing setting.

Day 4
Lecture: Technology, blessing or curse for our mental health?

Professor Eva Van Assche gave a presentation about new technological advancements in mental health care. After this we sat together and discussed new challenges and ideas.

Activity: Yoga in the park

It has been proven that yoga has a beneficial effect on symptoms of distress and sleep quality among students [4,5]. This is why we decided to organize an outside yoga session together with BeMSA and a professional yoga teacher.

[4] Elstad, T., Ulleberg, P., Klonteig, S., Hisdal, J., Dyrdal, G. M., & Bjorndal, A. (2020). The effects of yoga on student mental health: a randomised controlled trial. Health psychology and behavioral medicine, 8(1), 573–586
[5] Puyat, J. H., Ahmad, H., Avina-Galindo, A. M., Kazanjian, A., Gupta, A., Ellis, U., Ashe, M. C., Vila-Rodriguez, F., Halli, P., Salmon, A., Vigo, D., Almeida, A., & De Bono, C. E. (2020). A rapid review of home-based activities that can promote mental wellness during the COVID-19 pandemic. PloS one, 15(12)

Day 5
Online campaign: Tips from therapy

Together with BeMSA, we asked students to anonymously share tips that they received during therapy which they think could help other students too. Next to these tips, another goal we had was to have an open conversation about therapy, in order to break the stigma.

Throughout the week: online campaign

Next to the real-life events, we also organized an online campaign about the mental health in PhD students and iGEM members. We succeeded in this by sending out messages and emails to iGEM members and PhD students all around the world asking if they would be open to testify in an interview or in an online survey. We also made posters and spread them around laboratories and campuses to increase visibility. The stories that we gathered were used to illustrate numbers and facts from literature. Before we started contacting people, we asked expert advice and received training on depth interviews.