There is growing concern over mental health issues affecting college students worldwide and World Mental Health Day on 10 October each year hopes to raise public awareness about such issues.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.
The theme of mental health has an influential voice with celebrities such as Trevor Noah and Demi Lovato, as they step forward to share their unique experiences.
The stigma associated with mental health issues are still rife in society at both a local and global level. Social surveys report that college students have the largest proportion of mental illnesses amidst all the age groups. The dominant mental health issues are depression, anxiety and suicidal ideations.
An estimated 800 000 people pass on by suicide worldwide each year. It is the second most common cause of death in people aged 15 to 29 and college students around the world are more at danger of suicidal behaviour than the general population. A study across 26 colleges in the United States has indicated that students experience a comprehensive range of mental health complications. The results of the study revealed that 17% suffered from depression, 4.1% had panic disorder, 7.0% had generalised anxiety, 6.3% had suicidal ideation and 15.3% reported non-suicidal self-injury.
A study conducted by Stellenbosch University among 1337 students of different backgrounds revealed that as many as 12% of college students experience anything from moderate to severe symptoms of depression and 15% report moderate to severe symptoms of anxiety. A specific study revealed that 24.5% of a large sample of South African students experienced some type of suicidal ideation in the two weeks prior to their interview. South African data also revealed that in the previous 12 months, 20.8% of first-year students had experienced anxiety, 13.6% had experienced depression and students’ thoughts about suicide began to rise if they had either of these mental illnesses.
Almost three-quarters of respondents in a survey of 3 800 University of Cape Town students cited mental health issues such as depression and anxiety as their greatest challenge during the COVID-19 lockdown period. Some symptoms of depression and anxiety include feelings of stress and apprehension, irritability, trouble focusing and persistent thoughts of hopelessness.
Cassey Chambers, Operations Manager at the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) believes that home treatments such as following a routine, setting goals, exercising, avoiding unhealthy habits, having a good night’s sleep, educating yourself, participating in volunteer work, practising gratitude and entering a tranquil state through yoga and meditation can assist. Furthermore, it appears that there is some scientific truth behind the old proverb: “laughter is the best medicine”. Studies show that laughter is a great way to overcome the downward spiral to depression and anxiety.
Suicidal ideations can be defined as thinking about or organising one’s own death by one’s own hand. Some ways to overcome suicidal thoughts include getting enough rest, exercising, building a community of support, surrounding yourself with positive people and remembering that feelings are not permanent. Mental health issues that are left untreated can have dire consequences for students’ long-term aspirations. There are skilled counsellors at SADAG – http://www.sadag.org/, the SAFMH – https://www.safmh.org/ and Lifeline – http://lifelinesa.co.za/ who offer mental health support.
Margaret Kramer, an American student stated “colleges have the credibility and control to discuss mental health with total transparency”.
The MANCOSA Wellness Programme (MWP) aligns with Kramer’s point of view. Visit https://www.mancosa.co.za/legal/health-and-wellness-policy/ to learn about this programme. MANCOSA prides itself in providing support to the discerning student, understanding the pressures of balancing the work, life and studying process. Efficient and effective support from a higher education institution is pivotal in reducing the anxieties that affect the prevailing students, even more so amidst the COVID-19 pandemic which may be around for years to come.
The leaders and educators at MANCOSA empathise with their students during these challenging and uncertain times. Currently, MANCOSA is fully operational on an online platform, providing the student the space and time they need to cope with their studies. Being student-centric, there are many online educational resources available to MANCOSA students. This ease of access provides the student with ample time and confidence to plan their day and goals. The array of support mechanisms available at
MANCOSA assists students in balancing their life and studies which in turn leads to a healthy mind, body and soul. The college years are powerful and enjoyable times, and expressing your emotions with a trusted professional or loved one can assist in taking control of your mental health. Remember, the wise words of famous actress Glenn Close: “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, and more unashamed conversation”. Stay blessed and protected.
*** A guide to help the youth deal with confinement during the lockdown is being reissued to commemorate World Mental Health Day (10 October). Honoris United Universities, whose subsidiaries in SA include higher education institution REGENT Business School and MANCOSA, has in conjunction with the Moroccan charity Sourire de Reda, which works to alleviate the silent pain of young people, published “My Care”. The digital booklet aims to help young people better understand what they are going through during lockdown by identifying the emotions caused by social distancing.
The e-book which provides young people with a series of recommendations and tips for getting through this period in the best possible mental state has been endorsed by the South African Federation for Mental Health and Befrienders South Africa.