UP students initiate mental awareness campaign – ’How are you, UP?’

Posted on March 16, 2015

The ordinary question, ’How are you?’ has been given new meaning by students at the University of Pretoria, where it has been elevated to create a level of consciousness about the mental health of the University community, and especially that of the students.

The ‘How are you, UP?’ movement was started in 2014 by three UP students, Hilja Eelu (third year Human Genetics), Gemma Annear (second year Architecture) and Roanne Moodley (second year Architecture) to intensify the mental health agenda of students at the University. This movement is an addition to the Mental Awareness Campaign headed by the Department of Student Affairs and is supported by various societies on campus.

The Director of Student Affairs at the University of Pretoria, Dr Matete Madiba, stated that since the mental health of students is one of the most important issues on their agenda, her Department is fully behind this movement. The question ’How are you?’ should not only be an enquiry about a person’s welfare, but should be a question that can stand between life and death if asked in a meaningful way. Many students do not know where to go for counselling to find relief when they experience depression or mental distress, and an initiative like this will encourage them to talk about their issues and could also be crucial in pointing someone suffering from mental distress towards the relevant offices for help,’ she said.

Research has shown that 20 and 30 per cent of people experience depression in their lifetime, and that the first episode of depression usually occurs between the ages of 18 and 24, when students at universities are often faced with new challenges pertaining to their academic performance, financial difficulties and family and personal problems. ‘These situations also add to depression among students and we feel that the mental awareness campaign and a movement such as this will help to heighten the level of consciousness of student mental health,’ added Dr Madiba. The Department of Student Services has enlisted the services of various NGOs to support them in their mental health campaign.

After having lost a friend through suicide, Hilja Eelu was prompted to initiate the ‘How are you, UP?’ movement on different campuses in an attempt to create a culture of sharing and talking about issues that affect students’ lives. She explained her vision as follows: ‘Asking “How are you?” has simply become a greeting, rather than a question. We seldom ask it because we are interested in the other person’s well-being; therefore this initiative is a drive to change this and to encourage students to truly engage with one another.’

With campaigns such as these, the University of Pretoria community hopes to achieve continuity by emphasising the need to remove the stigma attached to mental distress and create an environment in which students support one another.



- Author DUR

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