Three persistent taboos around mental well-being put on the table

(05-09-2022) There are still many taboos surrounding mental wellbeing. We prefer not to talk about psychological problems. Too bad, because talking helps. That is why we discuss three taboos here. You can hear more tips from experts in the podcast 'Unpublished'.

How do you help a colleague who is thinking about suicide?

10 September is World Suicide Prevention Day. Much needed, because suicide is still one of the most persistent taboos. Do you suspect that your colleague has suicidal thoughts? As a colleague you can really make a difference. How? Professor Gwendolyn Portzky gives us tips.

  • Do you feel that your colleague is not feeling well? Then dare to talk to them about it. A lot of people think they make it worse that way, but that's not true. Talking does have a preventive effect. Ask questions: how are you feeling? What are you thinking of? What makes it difficult for you? Who can you contact?
  • Let your colleague tell and listen. You don't have to immediately come up with solutions or advice, on the contrary. If you have listened to the story first, you can think about possible solutions afterwards.
  • Keep in touch, and regularly ask how things are going.

Do you need help with suicidal feelings, or do you feel concerned about someone? In Belgium, you can call 1813 (the suicide line) or visit their website to chat ( Internationally you can call the Community Help Service 02 648 40 14.

Want to gain more insight into how you can help someone who is thinking about suicide? On Thursday 15 September we organize 2 information sessions for Ghent University staff members. The live information session will take place from 9:30 – 10:30 and will be given in Dutch (the location will be provided). The online information session will take place from 14:00 to 15:00 and will be given in English. Both info sessions deal with the same content (how do you recognize signals? How do you respond best? How can you start a conversation? …)
Listen to the Unpublished episode 'It's OK not to be OK: on the importance of mental wellbeing' with Professor Gwendolyn Portzky.

How do you make sure that an international colleague feels welcome?

Many international UGent'ers indicate that it is a challenge to be away from home for a long time, and to integrate into a new culture with its own way of working. Professor Frederik Anseel explains how you can give international colleagues a warm feeling of welcome.

  • Communicate in English. When people around you speak in a foreign language, it makes you feel unsafe and it seems like people are talking about you.
  • Jump out of your own fish bowl, and see your own culture and customs from a helicopter view. A lot of things that come naturally to you, are not at all to someone else. Ask your colleague what things stand out about your way of acting, thinking and being. This can lead to fascinating and innovative insights.
  • Many people tend to talk only about work. Dare to ask about their background, friends and family. Or take your international colleague to an event or party.
Do you want to better understand your international colleague? Or just curious how, for example, Australians think about 'the Euros'? Listen to the episode 'Jump out of your fishbowl: creating awareness on cultural differences' with professor Frederik Anseel.

What can you do when you feel lonely?

As a researcher you are often alone on your research for a long time. In addition, many researchers work abroad and live there alone. Then it is normal to feel lonely at times: everyone is lonely at times. But don't confuse being alone with loneliness. You can also feel lonely in a group. Those who are lonely lack connection with the other. For example, if you need a chat, but don't know who to turn to. Professor Piet Bracke gives tips to counteract that annoying feeling of loneliness.

  • Talk about your feeling of loneliness, and try to accept your feeling. It's normal to feel this way. Behind that feeling lies a universal need for connection. Be kind to yourself when you experience this. Talking about it can be a real eye-opener: most likely others recognize themselves in your feeling.
  • Try not to see your social network as a fixed group of people 'that you have to do it with'. It's never too late to make new contacts and build a new group of friends. There is no need to put pressure on yourself at all: an open mindset is important.
  • Be aware of the societal pressure to have a large social network. On social media, we pretend to be more extroverted than we actually are, and we don't like to admit that sometimes we want to be alone. But that's perfectly normal: social contact can also be exhausting. Don't confuse loneliness with being alone.
Would you like to know more about loneliness? Listen to the episode 'No one is an island: about loneliness and building bridges' with professor Piet Bracke.
Want to know more? From 5 September you can watch the first three episodes of the podcast 'Unpublished', with more insights and tips from Ghent University experts.