The corona crisis has affected many areas of our lives. Things are still changing for students and it takes a minute to get used to. And sometimes we just need to talk about it. Only, voicing your worries or asking help from the people you’re close to isn’t always easy. Luckily, there are many free helplines available to you. Here are five of them that you can check out.
1. Community Help Service, Tele-Onthaal, Télé-Accueil and Telefonhilfe
If you’re looking for an anonymous helpline that you can reach in seconds, these nonprofits will help you. They offer a free 24/7 telephone line, either in English, Dutch, French, or German.
You can call these helplines to talk about anything that’s on your mind and bothering you. If you have a more specific problem, they’ll also help you find organizations that are better suited to your needs.
The English helpline, Community Help Service, provides general information for internationals about living in Belgium. And they offer personal therapeutic support through the Mental Health Services Centre. It’s important to note though that this part of their services is not free. At the Dutch helpline, Tele-Onthaal, you can also chat on their website every evening from 6 p.m. till 11 p.m.
Here you can find the contact information for the different helplines:
- English – Community Help Service: 026-48 40 14
- Dutch – Tele-Onthaal: 106
- French – Télé-Acceuil: 107
- German – Telefonhilfe: 108
2. Stuvo/Student Services
Sometimes you need help that’s more student-related. In that case, your college’s Stuvo can help you. Stuvo is the abbreviation of the Dutch Studenten Voorzieningen, which we call Student Services in English.
Every college or university in Flanders has its own Student Services office, and they all offer the same help to the students of their school. This ranges from practical help by providing computers or financial support, to psychosocial conversations about topics like school stress, motivation, and daily routines. Their support is free and easy to access.
The Thomas More Student Services, for example, offers several ways to get in touch with them. Student counselor Laurens Wynen from Thomas More Mechelen explains: ‘Every weekday, there is a student counselor present to answer the phone and keep an eye on the mailbox. On the other hand, that same colleague is responsible for the chat hour that day.’ This permanent availability has only recently been added as a way to reach students better during the corona crisis. ‘Its intention is to answer short, practical questions. If there is a question about complicated financial matters or psychosocial problems, then we recommend you make an appointment with a student supervisor for a longer conversation.’
Get in touch with the Student Services:
- Chat online between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m.
- Call them on 014 56 23 00
- E-mail them via firstname.lastname@example.org
When you make an appointment you will get an hour of personal coaching from one of the student counselors. Of course, an appointment with Student Services can only be carried out online nowadays. You have a couple of options as to how you would like to be contacted. ‘This can be done in three ways,’ says Laurens Wynen, ‘via a video call, via a telephone conversation, or we can chat online.’
The chat (which is not the same as the daily chat hour for short questions mentioned before) is a new option that came about due to the corona crisis. Laurens Wynen sees a great benefit to it: ‘We notice that some students, who wouldn’t have come to the Student Services otherwise, now find their way via chat.’
‘Students ask if they still have to pay for their dorm now that they’re home’
The type of counseling students need has also changed a bit: ‘The biggest issues students have now, have to do with studying. Study coaching is something we usually do not provide, but it is very much linked to how a student feels at the moment,’ explains Laurens Wynen. ‘I also notice that students with non-corona-related problems come to us less now. The barrier to seek online help might be greater for them.’
On the practical side, things have changed too, according to Laurens Wynen: ‘Students ask if they still have to pay for their dorm now that they’re home. Others lost their student job and can’t pay their rent. For this reason, Student Services have sent e-mails to landlords to negotiate on the rent. In addition, all students who get extra financial support from Student Services have been checked up on to see if they had a working laptop with a webcam and a stable internet connection. If they didn’t have that, we helped them with it.’
The Student Services made a new page on the portal for students with more information on how to navigate life during these confusing times.
3. Start To Talk
Are you looking for a listening ear from people who can relate to the struggles of life as a young adult? Then Start To Talk is a better option for you.
Start To Talk is a project lead by the Ghent branch of the Belgian Medical Students’ Association. It wants to break taboos about mental health by coming together in a discussion group every month. Here you can talk about your worries and find peers to connect with who might feel the same.
Since the corona crisis, they have moved their discussions online, and they now hold it every Monday night from 7.30 p.m. till 9 p.m. on Discord. During the discussion, you can either chat, video call, or voice message others. If you want to join, they ask you to notify one of the moderators so that they know how many moderators they’ll need that day.
When you’re in need of more practical help with general life issues, JAC can help you find your way. This goes from help with finding a home, arranging finances, administration, legal matters, or even therapy. All for free.
JAC stands for Jeugd Advies Centrum – Youth Advice Centre in English – and is part of the Flemish nonprofit Centrum Algemeen Welzijnswerk which is the center for general welfare. It offers help specifically for youngsters between 12 and 25 years.
Most of JAC’s information is tailored to Dutch-speaking youngsters. But if English-speakers want to make use of their services they will switch to English where they can.
JAC has offices in a number of Flemish cities where you can pop in if you have a question. But since the corona measures were implemented, they have moved all of their help online. Now, you can chat with them on their website every weekday from 11 a.m. till 8 p.m., use the mailing form on their site, or call one of JAC’s regional offices.
5. 7 cups of tea
For a more international experience, you can check out 7 cups of tea.
This website offers an online chat, much like the previous organizations do. The difference is that they work with volunteers from all over the world. These are people just like you who get trained by 7 cups of tea to lend a listening ear to people who just need to get something off their chest.
You can choose the language that you would like to chat in and the topic that you want to vent about. This helps the website to connect you with a listener better suited to your needs.
It’s important to note, though, that this feature on their website is not a professional helpline, and the volunteers cannot help you with critical matters. They do have professional psychologists at your service, but a consultation with them is not free.
7 cups does ensure anonymity, however. Any attempts to exchange contact information or other personal details are blocked by the website. The same goes for slurs, insults, and sexual content.
Want to feel less alone and curious to see how others struggle during this pandemic? This American student explains how the crisis affected her life, and in this Dutch article, students describe their problems with housing and rent. Want more suggestions for how to spend your time during quarantine? Maybe this list of YouTube series will give you some inspiration.
Text and picture: © Lisa Poppe