CEO of Universities South Africa Professor Ahmed Bawa says the organisation is deeply concerned about the level of suicides and suicide attempts at institutions.
This week, students at the University of the Witwatersrand expressed their frustrations with what they say is a lack of support from the institution after one of their peers, Mpumelelo Tshabalala, died on Wednesday.
Another student was reportedly rushed to hospital after attempting to end her life.
Bawa says universities are trying to ramp up their services but are faced with some challenges.
There are two major problems, the one is that students often and generally, don't look for assistance. They feel that they can't be helped. That there is a stigma attached to it. So in addition to ramping up the counselling, there is also a need for culture change and that is something we are engaging in now.— Ahmed Bawa, CEO of Universities South Africa
At a national level, the first thing we want to do is understand what the scale of the problem is and how to adopt a more coherent approach to it, so we are in discussions at the moment with several parties including the medical research council about engaging in substantial study.— Ahmed Bawa, CEO of Universities South Africa
Bawa hopes the study by the Medical Research Council will kick off in 2019.
We hoping that the study will also be an opportunity to identify students at risk during the study and to intervene even at that very early stage.— Ahmed Bawa, CEO of Universities South Africa
Meanwhile operations director at the SA Depression and Anxiety Group Cassey Chambers says while there is more awareness around depression and other mental illness, people do not know where to get help.
I think our help seeking behavior as a country is very poor and I think there is a number of different factors.— Cassey Chambers, Operations director at the SA Depression and Anxiety Group
Our calls have increased tremendously over the last few months and it is something that we are still reviewing. A lot of the students are continuously feeling stressed and overwhelmed with financial issues, family problems, relationship issues, trauma., sexual abuse, there is a number of contributing factors.— Cassey Chambers, Operations director at the SA Depression and Anxiety Group
No university or student is immune. It is very concerning. Our students are definitely in crisis.— Cassey Chambers, Operations director at the SA Depression and Anxiety Group
Chambers says depression has serious consequences if left undiagnosed and untreated.
Speaking on affordability and the lack of access to mental healthcare, Chambers says there is a means and way around it.
The biggest contributing factor to suicide is depression so it is a real illness.— Cassey Chambers, Operations director at the SA Depression and Anxiety Group
Whether it be going to a counselor, a social worker, you could negotiate rates. There is also options and benefits with regards to medical aids.— Cassey Chambers, Operations director at the SA Depression and Anxiety Group
I think it is just about being empowered - knowing where to go, who to speak to and how to get help. Many GPs can diagnose and prescribe medication. You can ask them for cheaper generic medication that you are able to afford.— Cassey Chambers, Operations director at the SA Depression and Anxiety Group
In South Africa, we know we do not have enough resources for mental health however the systems and the resources we have in place, people do not know how to use it. We have an extensive referral guide of organisations that provide free counselling.— Cassey Chambers, Operations director at the SA Depression and Anxiety Group
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