The University of Pretoria’s (UP) Student Counselling Unit (SCU) has launched a podcast that will address issues pertaining to the mental health and well-being of students at the University. Spearheaded by Ruqayya Seedat, Senior Counselling Psychologist in the unit, with oversight from Head of Department Dr Linda Blokland, the vision for the podcast is “to provide scientific, evidence-based information to students on how they can enhance their mental health and well-being in a simple, understandable and user-friendly way,” says Seedat, adding that the podcast will provide practical strategies that students can use to enhance their mental health.
During the nationwide lockdown necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the SCU responded swiftly by providing online counselling/therapy to UP-registered students and has been providing this service since March 2020 via WhatsApp voice/video call, Zoom and Google Meet video/voice Call. The move towards online services motivated the SCU to think even more innovatively about enhancing its mental health services to students.
“The Department of Student Affairs (DSA), as well as our unit, were tasked with brainstorming and implementing creative ways of assisting students online,” she explained. “Our collaboration with the Student Wellness Committee within DSA, specifically regarding mental health awareness initiatives, gave rise to this idea.”
The podcast, which was successfully piloted at the beginning of November, is targeted at UP students, for now. Seedat was quick to allay concerns regarding the accessibility of the platform, considering that students at UP come from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.
“The first two episodes are currently available on Anchor, Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Breaker and Google Podcasts,” she said. “Most students have a Gmail account and so Google Podcasts may be the most accessible platform. For next year, we also envision the release of a poster based on the podcast content for each podcast episode, which will ensure that the podcast content is available in alternative ways, especially for students with limited access to data.”
Two episodes have been released this year; the first titled Resilience and the second, ‘Relational Well-being’, which aired at the end of November.
“For 2021, we aim to release a minimum of six episodes during the year, with one being released every second month starting from the end of January. We would also like to release a bonus episode for October since October is Mental Health Awareness Month in South Africa.” Individuals with expertise in matters pertaining to mental health and well-being will be invited as guests on the platform.
Seedat highlighted the many stakeholders who were involved in getting the podcast off the ground. “In terms of production, our colleagues from the Student Wellness Committee connected us with Elma Akob, a postgraduate student who is involved in podcasting and voice over work,” Seedat said. “She helped me to develop the necessary skills to record, edit, and upload podcast content successfully. Professor Linda Theron, a leading researcher and practitioner in the field of resilience from the Department of Educational Psychology at UP, must also be acknowledged for being our expert speaker for the first episode on resilience.
“In terms of promotion, our colleagues within DSA, the Department of Institutional Advancement, the Department of Residence Affairs and Accommodation, Faculty Student Advisors, and our partner, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group are important stakeholders in promoting this initiative. These entities have assisted us in promoting this podcast initiative via social media and through internal communication channels.”
Lessons learnt while embracing the challenge
Seedat said setting up the podcast had taught her lessons worth sharing, and highlighted a few that she felt would benefit students, in particular, or those who want to step outside of their comfort zones by taking on a challenge:
- “It is really important to be open to learning new skills on an ongoing basis. Do not get stuck in a comfort zone; push past it, even if it may cause temporary discomfort and/or anxiety.
- Collaborating with people who can assist you in achieving your goals is vital to your success. Ask for help; don’t be shy or scared. Most people will assist you, if they can.
- Be open to exploring new, innovative ways of working.
- Have a blueprint or plan but make room for the process to unfold organically.
- Challenging circumstances (such as the COVID-19 pandemic and having to work online) can be an excellent catalyst for enhanced levels of creativity as well as personal and organisational growth. We can certainly say that we have enhanced our resilience as a department and unit this year,” she concluded.
Students can access the podcast here or they can search for ‘Student Counselling Unit Mental Health & Well-being Podcast’ on Spotify. Students are also encouraged to share their feedback on the podcast and to suggest topic ideas by sending an email with ‘Podcast Feedback’ as the email’s subject to: [email protected]