The month of October has been declared Mental Health Awareness Month with the objective of not only educating the public about mental health but also to reduce the stigma and discrimination that people with mental illness are often subjected to.
Studying at university can be stressful. Add to this the national lockdown and the many ways in which COVID-19 has affected our lives, it is more important than ever that mental wellness and health come to the fore and that the university offers additional support to not only students, but staff as well.
One of the many ways in which the lives of students have been affected is by having to study online, being isolated because of lockdown and having to adjust to what is now the ‘new normal’. All of these factors may easily lead to stress, depression, anxiety and other mental health-related issues – if not managed and recognised.
UMP clinical psychologist and student councellor, Xolile Sibuyi, says the demand for mental health support increased significantly during lockdown. Online studying took away the benefits of frequent interaction with other classmates, lecturers, friends and the whole university community, which might be lonely and frustrating for students.
"Students and staff at home have also had to deal with family problems, gender-based violence, trauma and socioeconomic challenges. All of these can trigger mental health-related problems such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, stress and many," she adds.
“The student counselling centre provides counselling and therapy sessions to UMP students through face-to-face and online consultations. Those who are able to come to the centre are allowed, and we offer online consultations for students who are still at home and in need of mental health services.”
Sibuyi further says that the counselling centre has facilitated online mental awareness campaigns focusing on mental health-related conditions such as depression, and the importance of self-care. The centre also hosts awareness drives such as the suicide prevention campaign to support students who might be going through emotional difficulties in silence, giving them hope to continue with life and seek help.
The UMP Wellness Centre works closely with external stakeholders such as Grip, Lifeline, SANCA and the Department of Health who assist students with mental health care support. The centre has emergency mental health care contact details available for students to use in case of an emergency.
Mental health wellness for staff
Organisational Development senior manager, Mr Patrick Molelekwa Rachidi, says it is no different for staff members at the university. Rachidi reveals that the university encourages staff to see a professional, talk to someone they trust, and engage with HR or the line manager whenever they feel overwhelmed.
"It is important to avoid stressful situations or at least minimise them – try to engage in extramural activities such as sports, hiking, walking, gym, and reading. These are just some of the activities but there could be many more depending on the triggers of the mental health issue at hand. Some may have mental health issues that are caused by physical health challenges, these may necessitate solving the physical health matter at hand. Some may result from spiritual challenges, which may need spiritual interventions. Some of these may be financial hence UMP arranges financial wellness sessions with experts to assist staff.”
Signs of mental unwellness
Mental health problems can present in different forms and common symptoms include:
- Frequent headaches or muscle aches.
- Chest pains or difficulty breathing.
- Trouble sleeping or sleeping a lot.
- Sudden weight gain or loss.
- Getting sick more than usual.
- Feeling sad all the time.
- Feeling extremely tired, overwhelmed or emotionally drained.
- Loss of interest in activities
- Trouble coping with life’s issues
- Feeling unusually forgetful, angry, upset, worried, restless or scared
- Poor concentration.
- Change in school/work performance.
- Increased use of substances (drugs and alcohol).
- Thinking of harming yourself or others.
- Feeling helpless or hopeless.
- Having suicidal thoughts.
Take care of your mental health
Staff and students can use the following coping strategies to better manage their mental health:
- Get professional help when you feel you need it.
- Reconnect with supportive people.
- Focus on the positive and limit being exposed to negative news.
- Maintain a healthy eating diet, which includes exercising regularly.
- Get enough sleep.
- Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol.
On-campus mental health services
Students are encouraged to make use of counselling services provided by the university at the Student Counselling Centre. To book, visit the Health and Wellness Centre at building 7, or call 013 002 0179 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
@ Story by Cleopatra Makhaga. Pictures supplied.