(Published - 18 October 2018)
“We’re in this together.” That was the theme of the University of the Western Cape’s (UWC) first World Mental Health Day campaign on 10 October 2018, which saw the University’s Centre for Student Support Services (CSSS) join hands with UWC Residential Services, RAPE Crisis and other mental health stakeholders to discuss and highlight mental health matters.
The theme was appropriate for the digital age, with its instant virtual connectivity and access to global information - advantages which come at a very high cost to many people, especially to the youth.
“The Fourth Industrial Revolution is being met with so much excitement across sectors,” noted CSSS Director Dr Laetitia Permall. “But as it becomes easier to connect and share our lives with others anywhere and anytime, there’s also a growing decrease in authentic connection between people, with the human race as a whole becoming more disconnected.”
This disconnect is particularly troubling, given that human beings disconnected from themselves or others are more at risk for developing serious mental health challenges. And this has a direct impact on perceptions, affecting many families, societal cultures as well as the global economy.
A 2018 study by the World Health Organization (WHO) tells us half of mental illness starts at the age of 14, with the top three causes of adolescent death being depression, suicide, and the abuse of alcohol and illicit drugs - all of which can result from and in turn help reinforce the stigma associated with people seeking help for mental health.
“When considering this, I must stress the real need for people to return to the principles of Ubuntu, where purpose, authentic connection and community matters most, in order to save ourselves and humanity,” Dr Permall noted.
In that spirit, CSSS invited all staff and students to celebrate World Mental Health day to raise awareness around mental health, especially depression. Stalls were set up to reflect the work that mental health service providers offer, including South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), and the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA). There were information booths from all the different support services on and off campus, as well as student performances geared around the theme of mental health such as short plays, singing, an exciting DJ, poetry readings, and so on - and a balloon ceremony to end off the auspicious day.
Mental Health, Higher Education and the UWC Experience
“Access to higher education represents opportunity and hope for thousands of South African youth whose historical access has been very limited,” Dr Permall noted. “But Higher Education Institutions as communities also create an intense student experience, where learning combines with a pressure to excel and competition for the limited employment and opportunities that are available.”
The many psycho-social and socio-economic challenges facing youth today, affects student mental health - and therefore affect their success as learners. Research on mental health shows that 5 out of 6 top factors affecting academic performance in higher education relate to mental health.
Permall believes that it’s time the Department of Higher Education prioritises student mental wellbeing and moves it to the centre of the university experience, with adequate funding and capacity to provide students with multifaceted support which speaks to mental health and student success.
Moreover, she said individuals need to be more aware about mental health issues as well.
“I urge students and staff of UWC to raise your personal awareness about the factors that impact your mental health. Change your mindset towards yourself and take action for a healthier, more fulfilled life where you will show that YOU really matter,” said Permall.
How to take care of your mental health factors:
- First become aware of the signs and symptoms;
- Seek support from friends, family or a trusted individual:
- Activate the most appropriate professional support.
CSSS, in collaboration with SADAG, provides a 24-hour toll-free counselling helpline to all UWC students who require any mental health or any other crisis support. Need to talk? Don’t hesitate - just call 0800 222 333 and help us help you out.