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Preventing mental stress – UNI4MIND project starts!

AOK Bayern and the Mental Health Crowd from Munich are launching UNI4MIND, a unique project at universities and colleges: Students at Hof University of Applied Sciences are also learning to strengthen their mental resources and thus deal better with stress. “campuls-digital” spoke to initiator Dominique de Marné and Wolfgang Hofmann, Director of AOK Hof-Wunsiedel.

Wolfgang Hofmann, Director of AOK Hof-Wunsiedel, is delighted that
Uni4Mind , an innovative project to improve mental health , has been launched at
Hof University of Applied Sciences; Image: AOK;

Mr. Hofmann, what exactly do we mean by UNI4MIND?

WH: “The Uni4Mind project is a prevention project funded by AOK Bayern in collaboration with Mental Health Crowd GmbH to promote the mental health of students. As a health insurance company, it is very important to us to actively promote health – even before illnesses arise. That’s why we are committed to promoting mental health by raising awareness of this important issue.”

Stress and the associated mental strain are also widespread among students…

WH: “That’s right. Mental stress can be found in all parts of society – and it doesn’t stop at students either. On the contrary: surveys show that more than 80% of students feel stressed during their studies. Over half of students describe their mental health as poor to bad. There are many reasons for this. We see a need for action here and would like to take a preventative approach. We would therefore like to create a meeting and information point for students, but also for employees of Hof University of Applied Sciences, and anchor mental health sustainably at the university through various activities.

The message is: mental health is important and each and every one of us can do something for our own mental well-being. The more intensively you engage with the topic, the better you can deal with it.”

Wolfgang Hofmann, AOK Hof-Wunsiedel

The project is organized together with the Mental Health Crowd – what can you tell us about it?

WH: “As AOK Bayern, we are financing the Uni4mind project. Naturally, we attach great importance to quality and the best possible implementation. That’s why we decided to bring professionals on board for this important topic. The Mental Health Crowd has already gained a lot of experience and is excellent at communicating information about mental health in a target group-oriented and practical way. We are therefore very pleased about this partnership.”

What exactly will take place at our university?

WH: “There will be lots of exciting activities this year. We are starting in the summer semester with the training of so-called Mental Health Guides. Interested students will be professionally trained by the Mental Health Crowd to provide other students with initial information and helpful tips on mental health. Anyone who would like to be trained can contact the Mental Health Crowd directly. The training lasts one weekend and is an absolute benefit both for your own private life and for your professional career. There are no costs for participants.

Dominique de Marné from the Mental Health Crowd (2nd from left) together with University President Prof. Lehmann (left), Wolfgang Hofmann (Director of AOK Hof-Wunsiedel) and Franziska Geske (AOK Bavaria Lifeworlds Officer);

In the winter semester 24/25, there will then be an exciting kick-off week with interesting talks and workshops on mental health. We are currently planning this – it will be very informative, but also interactive. We are also officially opening the Mental Health Café – the future meeting place for all things mental health. The guides who have now been trained will be deployed here and will be the first point of contact for fellow students. In a relaxed atmosphere, you can get a lot of information here, e.g. what options and strategies there are to do something for yourself and your mental health. Here you can also find out which other important contact points there are in the region that you can turn to. Of course, you can also ask any questions that concern you or your environment. In addition, the university’s employees are not forgotten in the various activities.”

Ms de Marné, what role do you play in this – what is your role within UNI4MIND?

DdM: “I am one of the initiators of the Uni4mind project, building on the experiences we already had at the TU Munich in 2018. I’m one of the main brains behind the scenes, so to speak, in terms of the concept and, of course, the implementation.”

Mental illness is on the rise according to all known statistics – what could be the cause of this?

DdM: “Yes, on the one hand, there is an increase – on the other hand, we also know that mental illnesses are nothing new; they have always existed. However, they are now better recognized, for example by more aware doctors. We are also talking more about these issues and yet we live in a society, in a culture, in a time that is facing many more challenges to mental health – isolation, loneliness, digitalization, Covid, wars, climate change, to name just a few. Unfortunately, these diverse influencing factors combined with a lack of knowledge about mental health, a lack of prevention and a lack of educational work are unfavorable, so that many people do not even know how to prevent mental illness or how to recognize it as early as possible.”

Many mental illnesses originate before the age of 25. What options are there to counteract this at a young age?

DdM: “One point is knowledge: What is mental health? What can I do for it? How do I recognize it? When it comes to physical health, we all learn this from an early age – brushing our teeth, not just eating sugar, getting enough sleep… We know (at least in theory) what’s good for us. And this knowledge of mental health literacy alone is lacking in our society. We focus very strongly on this.

50% of all mental illnesses have their origin even before the age of 15 – that doesn’t mean that the illnesses are already there, but there are thoughts and behavioral patterns that lead to illness if left untreated.”

Dominique de Marné

So awareness, prevention and early detection are important. And, of course, the way society deals with the issue is also crucial – we can all contribute to this by normalizing the topic.”

Those affected are generally reluctant to talk about their condition. How do you overcome the silence?

“I talked a lot about my own diagnosis, which was completely normal for me. I quickly realized that everyone has their own mental health story: many have already been in therapy themselves, or their boyfriend/girlfriend, someone in the family. I asked myself: if it affects us all, why don’t we talk about it more? I realized that as a former sufferer, I can open doors by taking the first step and thus encouraging others. It is also important to emphasize here: Mental illness is not a weakness, a choice or a decision. They are illnesses.”

So-called Mental Health Cafés are planned – what do you mean by this?

DdM: “These are low-threshold contact points in the university context where our trained Mental Health Guides are regularly available as the first point of contact for mental health issues. I have exam nerves or I’m stressed at the moment – what can I do? All questions can be asked here in a relaxed setting – you can have a delicious coffee and a chat on the side. These are not crisis centers for acute crises. But there are so many questions about mental health – because we never really learn how to deal with it.”

Mr. Hofmann, in terms of sustainability: how can the university benefit from UNI4MIND beyond the duration of the project?

WH: “The project is designed in such a way that it can continue to run independently beyond the actual project duration of four semesters. Once established and anchored, it will become an integral part of everyday university life. Hof University of Applied Sciences will therefore be able to support the topic for years to come and actively promote the mental health of its students and employees in the long term. We are delighted that we are now launching this project together and making a significant contribution to preventive healthcare.”

Great! Can you get involved as a student, for example? Who can I contact if I have any questions?

DdM: “Yes, definitely! We at the Mental Health Crowd are responsible for implementation, but we are happy for students to actively participate and have a great exchange. Interested students are welcome to register with us for the Mental Health Guide training course. We are also available to answer general questions at any time. Simply contact Natascha Schlichting from AOK Bayern (natascha.schlichting@by.aok.de) or us at the Mental Health Crowd (info@mentalhealthcrowd.de).


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