Staying mentally fit in turbulent times
What a semester, in the middle of the Corona crisis! A lot of things have changed significantly, also for the students, right?
Kirsten Bannert: Yes, indeed: the summer semester 2020 is very unusual, and it brings completely new challenges for the students. They probably have never been confronted with online teaching, studying from home, or similar restrictions in social life in this way before.
"TUM4mind" is dedicated to the topic of mental health. What services are you currently offering to the students?
In order to get through the semester well – despite the changes and possible uncertainties – we are offering the online forum "Psychisch fit studieren” by Irrsinnig Menschlich e.V., which will take place on July 16, 2020. In addition, a one day compact online workshop on motivation and healthy self-management is taking place on four dates in June. There are a few remaining places available for the course on June 29.
What is the online forum on July 16 about? Who is it for?
The online forum is open for all students. The participants can learn how to watch out for warning signals of psychological crises – and gather information on who, or what, can help in challenging times. The speakers at the forum are psychological experts. The students will also have the opportunity to ask questions to someone who experienced psychological crises while studying and managed to cope with them. In this way, it will be possible to discuss appropriate coping strategies and develop helpful perspectives. The workshop will be held in German, but it is possible to ask questions in English during the Q+A.
What exactly is "TUM4Mind"?
The TUM4Mind project is dedicated to the topic of mental health during your studies. We aim to raise awareness for this topic among students, to inform them about preventive support and counselling services, and offer various forms of assistance at an early stage. We are well connected, internally and externally, and we cooperate closely with TUM4Health, the counselling network of the Munich Student Union, and the Klinikum Rechts der Isar.
How and when did this TUM-project come about?
The TUM Junge Akademie organized action days on the topic of mental health in 2018, and we have been dealing with these topics for many years in the scope of study counselling and learning and examination academic coaching. Thus, it seemed to be a good idea to place more emphasis on the "mental health" topic at TUM. We connected existing structures and broadened the scope. Meanwhile, our program includes an action week in the winter semester and workshops in the summer semester.
As part of your job at TUM, you also offer coaching – currently via video call or telephone – and are talking to many students. What is the most important topic at the moment?
There is no general answer to this question. Currently, the concerns of the students are quite different from the usual topics. One important point, for example, is studying at home. There are students who find it very difficult to develop daily routines for themselves and stay productive with regard to learning.
Studying digitally has not yet become a normality for us.
There are also students who benefit from the "digital semester". They get along well with online teaching and find it helpful to be able to work at their own pace.
Nevertheless, many are alone at home almost all of the time...
Of course. Often, being forced to spend most of the time at home blurs the lines between studying and leisure time. It can be quite difficult to define a "healthy amount" of learning, and it can happen that your mind is overwhelmed with study-related thoughts. What makes the situation even more difficult is that the restrictions have unfortunately led to a lack of activities as "balance", such as sports and other leisure activities.
Despite all these differences, are there issues that affect everyone?
I think so. The changes caused by the corona pandemic catapulted all of us out of our comfort zone within a very short time. Many habits and routines were turned upside down, and smaller and larger plans were thwarted. Many things have become unpredictable, and we don't feel in control any more. A lot of people definitely feel insecure at the moment.
Is it perhaps a small consolation that Corona affects all of us?
Yes, just about everyone has to cope with some kind of loss: exams were cancelled, some students have lost their side jobs. For many, a planned semester abroad will not be able to take place – and in some cases, entry into professional life will be delayed.
What advice do you have for students?
There is no "one fits all" advice I can give. After all, everyone is addressing the current situation differently. In fact, many even see positive aspects in the situation. If a student notices that the situation is getting out of hand, it is crucial not to hesitate to get help early on. All counselling services are currently available in digital form or by telephone. An overview of the support offers can be found here: „How are things in your home office?“
Kirsten Bannert works at the TUM Center for Study and Teaching and is responsible for learning and exam academic coaching, together with her colleagues Bettina Hafner and Marein Orre. She has been working at TUM since 2013 and has been in charge of the project "TUM4Mind – Mental gestärkt durchs Studium" since last year.