Photo: Elisa Ventur / Unsplash

The need to talk more and more about mental health is increasing every day, so in the developed countries in Europe and the world, psychological support or counseling is provided for the employees at their workplace. The same has been offered by universities to their students for years by providing support and counseling from professionals.

In North Macedonia, there are just a few counseling centers at faculties both at state and private universities – at the Faculty of medicine at Sts Cyril and Methodius University in the capital Skopje (UKIM), St. Clement University in, Bitola (UKLO) and the American College in Skopje – even though the need is enormous and they provide huge benefits for the students, says Professor Dragana Batikj, PhD., who is also a psychotherapist, and works at the Faculty of Security at UKLO.

Dr. Dragana Batikj, together with Professor Gordana Ristevska – Dimitrovska, PhD, a psychiatrist, psychotherapist and a lecturer at the Medical School in Bitola in the academic year 2018/2019 founded the first free psychological counseling center, as part of the KREDO center at UKLO, intended for the students.

“In our country, unfortunately, there aren’t’ any psychological outreach centers for young people, and therefore, apart from the classical psychiatrist institutions and the psychiatrists, the students have nowhere to go for a conversation and help for some of their intimate problems. This fact convinced us to open a psychiatrist counseling for students at the university, which is normal for the university centers in Western countries,” Professor Batikj remarks.

Apart from her expert opinion, in the period between the 26th and 27th of April, Meta.mk, together with Studentarija conducted polls on the need of counseling centers at faculties. At the online polls, around 6,435 people took part, i.e. predominantly students and other young people.

According to the polls, out of 7,228 answers, most of them i.e. 68% are students at UKIM, 15% are students at UGD, 10% are students at UKLO and the remaining 7% are students from other state and private universities in the country.

When asked “Should there be free psychological counseling at the faculty that you have enrolled in?”, 91% or 5,946 out of the total number of responses (6,583) have replied affirmatively, while 9% or 574 have responded negatively.

According to Professor Batikj, the basic goal of the counseling center is the promotion of students’ mental health by developing healthy lifestyles and resilience, as well as providing assistance in solving current development problems.

The outreach center at UKLO is working on the principle of confidentiality either through individual or group counseling, psycho-educational workshops and lectures, including workshops for the development of life skills.

Professor Dragana Batikj explains that during the psycho-educational workshops subjects that are of existential importance for all people, including young people, are discussed, such as: self-confidence issues, love, relationships, wellbeing, loss, and many other topics which the students never had an opportunity to discuss.

The center was active even during the COVID-19 pandemic whereas from 2020 all of its activities were transferred online, and a telephone line was established.

“In order to establish the condition of the student’s population during the pandemic, the UKLO Psychological Outreach Center has implemented research whose results have shown that one-third of the students have significant anxiety and a vivid depression, and one-third of the students have low resilience. The women are less resilient than the men. Every second student is showing signs of traumatization and an alarming rise of suicidal ideasn among the students (1 out of 5 students or almost 20%). Around 6% of the students almost every day had thoughts of death or self-harming,” shared Batikj, who together with Professor Ristevska-Dimitrovska are the authors of the research.

During the first meeting between the representatives of the Students Parliament at UKIM and the young MPs at the Parliament of North Macedonia on the 3rd of February this year, an initiative for the improvement of mental health was discussed, as well as the need of the right for free psychological help for every student. Batikj stressed that long-term sustainability and the implementation of these activities in the remaining universities could be proved through cooperation with certain schools for psychotherapy.