EFR Maskerclass: The Power of Discussion in Destigmatising Depression

Hore, Ankshita

On the afternoon of October 27, EFR and ESE collaborated with Sophie Schmeets’ Maskerclass to host a panel discussion on depression. The 90-minute event was held in a small and cosy section within the Erasmus Paviljoen, creating a safe and intimate space for audience members. 

Sophie Schmeets led the discussion, which boasted of an expert panel with diverse backgrounds.The panel was a mix of professional expertise and personal experience. Manou Lourens and Sammy Botter, former EFR members, participated in the panel by sharing their battles with mental health. The expert panellists were Pauline Mak - a university psychologist at EUR, and Ger Celeen - a representative of 113 Zelfmoordpreventie (national suicide prevention hotline). Schmeets herself suffered from depression twice, inspiring her to launch Maskerclass to normalise depression. 

The event commenced with an interactive icebreaker with the audience. During this exercise, Sophie tested the audience’s understanding of several common myths on depression and fostered an open and relaxed atmosphere. Following the icebreaker, Sophie’s reading of her journal entries allowed the audience to step inside the mind of a person with depression. Other panellists introduced themselves through personal anecdotes, highlighting the fact that every patient experiences depression differently. The introduction provided a perfect segway to the first section, where the professional panellists provided an overview of the diagnosis criteria for clinical depression and its common symptoms. While some symptoms may overlap, people with depression can report vastly different symptoms, causes, and triggers. 

Ger Celeen - a representative of 113 Zelfmoordpreventie, shared statistical data on the suicide rate in the Netherlands. Statistical data revealed that suicide was more prevalent among young males than females, yet societal gender expectations make mental health services for men largely inaccessible. The statistics matched Sammy Botter’s experience of facing gender-based discrimination when opening up about his struggles with depression. 

Manou, a former EFR member and panellist, shared her story of developing depression and PTSD following a severe car accident. With constant misdiagnoses, improper medication, and bad experiences with psychologists, the road to recovery was challenging for Manou. Her experiences helped the audience to understand that it is crucial to find the right therapist, switch therapists, or even stop or change medication under a psychiatrist’s supervision. The first segment of the discussion came to an end with a heartfelt poem recitation by Manou. 

The next part of the discussion provided the audience with tools to help their loved ones through depression. A video was screened to help the audience understand the importance of listening and empathy skills in providing emotional support to patients. The video iterated the idea that a meaningful connection with the patient and their thoughts outweighs any possible advice or problem-solving response. The panellists weighed in to explain the importance of creating a safe space, resisting the urge to “solve their problems”, and avoiding toxic positivity. The university psychologist also informed EUR students on the procedure to book an appointment at EUR and the possible treatment plans available at the university. 

Throughout Maskerclass, many questions were asked from the audience, creating an open and safe atmosphere for everyone present. One of the main questions was how to help someone whom you know who suffers or might suffer from depression. A good answer to this question can be found in this informational video from 113 Zelfmoordpreventie or this video about empathy. The Erasmus University also has psychologists for students available, you can find more info about them here.

For more information about this topic, see 113.nl. This website and helpline is not only meant for people who suffer from depression but also for others who want to help anyone suffering from depression.

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