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PANEL DISCUSSION: "What can be done at the university to support students' mental health?"

In October, Tallinn University of Technology hosted Mental Health Month. There were activities for everyone, from therapy dogs to workshops, yoga mornings to informational sessions. Three major events took place during the month: a mental health information day, a lifestyle conference called "The Power of Habits," and a panel discussion on students' mental health in university. Participants had the chance to grab Peaasi workbooks, Kadarbiku carrot juice, encouraging stickers, or smoothies.

On October 19th, a panel discussion took place at the Student House titled "What can be done at the university to support students' mental health?". The panel included Karoliina Rebane, a member of the student council leadership in the field of education, Kadri Kiiskmann, a psychologist from the counseling center, Ago Luberg, the program director of the computer science curriculum, and Birgit Malken, the advocate for youth mental health from the Estonian Youth Mental Health Movement.

They discussed the current support network at Tallinn University of Technology, the extent to which the mental health of students is the university's responsibility, and what changes can be implemented on this topic in the university. The conversation also touched on maintaining balance and avoiding burnout.

The consensus was that students' mental health is a shared responsibility, and the university plays a crucial role in creating a supportive environment. Well-being is supported by both sports and leisure opportunities and involvement in student organizations. While student activism and sports opportunities are already at a high level, there's room to improve the learning environment and create more open spaces for group work or collaborative studying.

Faculty members can contribute to students' mental health by fostering supportive attitudes and involving students in the learning process. Effective methods often support the learning process and reduce mental fatigue, overload, and stress. Involvement through asking questions, initiating discussions, and engaging in dialogue with students is an excellent example of efficient learning where performance pressure is lower when active thinking and contribution to the learning process are actively acknowledged.

The mental health survey conducted at TalTech in spring 2023 revealed that many students believe that a well-organized study schedule at the beginning of the course would positively impact their mental health. Confusing course arrangements or unclear deadlines for assignments are common negative comments in feedback, indicating that clear guidelines and specific deadlines at the beginning of the semester help reduce study-related stress.

Birgit Malken, who has been involved in creating mental health action plans at the University of Tartu, introduced various formats that have been tried there. The "Mental Health ABC" online course has been very popular, allowing people to listen to lectures at their own pace and place. This format is suitable for addressing sensitive topics, as it allows people to remain anonymous and removes potential barriers that may arise when seeking counseling. Roundtable discussions on learning and school-related stress have also worked well, where students with similar concerns can exchange experiences. Of course, it should be considered that the University of Tartu has a social sciences faculty, which allows for more experimentation with different formats. However, similar methods could still be applied elsewhere.

While the university and faculty members have a role in preventive measures for students' mental health, individual responsibility cannot be overlooked. Consistency in taking care of basic needs, such as sufficient sleep, balanced nutrition, and an active lifestyle, forms the foundation. It's also crucial to be there for each other and notice those close to us.


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