The University of Pretoria’s Student Counselling Unit (SCU) will roll out mental health and wellness campaigns throughout the month of October. These campaigns are aimed at reaching a wider student population and educating them about their well-being and how they can make themselves resilient and strong in spite of life’s difficulties.
These campaigns will highlight the seriousness of mental health and encourage students in particular to look after themselves. They will focus on issues linked to mental health in the student community such as social, psychosocial and psycho-political stress and the environment they live in.
According to Dr Linda Blokland, Acting Head of Department: SCU, “it is not only academics that can make students prone to mental health issues, but their personal relationships with friends/families, etc, can impact on their wellness and impact on how they function. Anyone can get ill anytime, our genes can switch at any moment, given the circumstance. It is also important that people know the difference between mental illness and mental health issues.”
The month of October was 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.
Statistics have indicated that an estimated 400 million people worldwide suffer from mental or neurological disorders or from psychosocial problems. These include disorders related to alcohol and drug abuse.
“As the department we want to produce rounded and well-adjusted citizens, not just alumni with degrees. We want people to be true leaders in their filed and to know more than what they have learnt in the book. They must be equipped on how to manage and take care of themselves, how to succeed in their professional lives. They must know that there is going to be stress in their lives at some point. We want to prepare them on how do you mange that, and which signs to lookout for,” said Hanle Kirkcaldy, Clinical Psychologist, SCU.
If not treated, mental illness – including schizophrenia, dementia, depressive disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder – can get worse.
Counselling Psychologist at the SCU Ruqayya Seedat advises that students should not wait until it is too late, or only days until it’s exams, to face mental health-related issues as certain situations can trigger imbalances.
Stress can pile up if not treated and the department is aware that students deal with numerous challenges including tests, exams and family problems; and most do not realise the extent of negative influence that accumulated stress can have on them.
The SCU runs a walk-in crisis service every day from Monday to Friday. Students can also access 24/7 psychological support through the UP Careline on 0800 747 747.