Tertiary institutions should prioritise mental health

Written by Teboho Setlofane

Could financial woes, family issues and feeling homesick contribute to students struggling with mental health issues?

When Maria Mokate (24) failed her first semester modules during her final year of studying Biochemistry, she started to feel depressed.

Mokate, who was staying with her grandmother at the time, believes lack of support worsened her depression because her grandparents didn’t fully understand the stress of school.

She says: “It was a struggle for me and I was wondering how am I gonna complete biochemistry. [I knew] when I was failing, my mother would have given me courage but she was no more.”

Today, Mokate is pursuing her Master’s degree at the Central University of Technology in the Free State.

Mental health matters

A United States study conducted amongst undergraduate students suggests there are higher rates of diagnosis for various mental health conditions, which potentially puts students’ academic success at risk.

The research, published in Journal of American College Health, found that in recent years there has been a high diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions such as anxiety, depression, and panic attacks.

Mokate believes that more awareness campaigns are needed because depression in students is ignored.

It prompted her to start the social media initiative, Mental Awareness Campaign, where she encourages students who might be suffering in silence.

Psychologist Magauta Kenke sees many students in Bloemfontein. She believes “depression is one of the mental health conditions that are on the rise among people generally but particularly, students”.

According to Kenke, there are many causes of depression in students such as adjusting to a university environment, family issues, financial difficulties, feeling homesick, and relationship challenges.

She says there are also students who may have been exposed to depression previously with childhood trauma, or the death or divorce of parents.

But many are ashamed to share their feelings, Kenke says, because of the stigma attached to depression.

She says tackling depression at higher institutions of learning is not an individual’s responsibility and but should be a joint effort between students and the greater university community.

Kenke recommends student dialogues to create safe spaces to talk about their struggles without feeling ashamed. She believes mental health should be incorporated into the curriculum to ensure that students are educated about it.

She explains: “Universities can also play a role by ensuring they hire qualified professionals from various multicultural backgrounds to ensure that students from [all] backgrounds are accommodated and can speak to someone they feel comfortable with.” – Health-e News

An edited version of this story was published in Health24

About the author

Teboho Setlofane