14/11/2017 02:57 GMT | Updated 14/11/2017 02:57 GMT

Mental Health Needs To Be Prioritised On Our Campuses

At the University of Cape Town, six students have died from "unnatural causes" which have been linked to depression and mental health issues.

Backlight of a teenager depressed sitting inside a dirty tunnel

Being a student at university and living the "student life" is considered to be one of the best times of a person's life because they are free and independent at a university. Yes, there are definitely a lot of perks and fun moments for students, but what is not discussed enough is the extreme pressure that is placed on them. In fact, there is a lack of awareness of mental health on university campuses in South Africa, and worldwide.

This has resulted in debilitating, abhorrent stories and statistics regarding the number of students who suffer from mental health issues and is thus, something that needs to be spoken about and dealt with. For any university or college student, student life can be tough especially when it comes to the increased academic pressure compared to previous years.

Students often have to deal with the challenge of finding a balance in their well being where they need to take care of their mental well being, physical well being, social well being, intellectual (academic) well being and other areas of themselves. Many factors at university and of a person play a role in their mental health being affected.

The academic pressure alone at universities and colleges is enough to cause a lot of stress which can lead to anxiety and hampering symptoms. The reason being is that there is usually a difference in the workload amount between high school, college and university, and as a result, it can take time for someone to get used to the new standards. Some students end up working late at night in order to keep up with all the work and this can have an effect on their sleeping patterns and mental well being.

Not only is the academic pressure an issue but problems also arise when students, who have mental health issues, need to sleep or take care of themselves but simply cannot because it is compulsory to attend a tutorial or a particular lecture.

They have to attend these classes otherwise they will not be permitted to write the exams, and thus, fail the module. Sometimes being in classes and lectures can be extremely suffocating for individuals who suffer from a mental illness, and this is not thought of at all by educational institutions even though they should be.

Although students, who have mental health issues, may be encouraged to speak to a counsellor or psychologist on campus, a stigma has been ingrained in people's minds regarding seeking help when it comes to mental health and it is this reason why many students, who suffer terribly, do not seek aid. In addition to this, some campus psychologists may not be empathetic towards students and this consequently discourages students from returning to seek assistance and help when they really need it.

Marginalized groups can feel suffocated or oppressed very easily in spaces that directly or indirectly dehumanizes their being and existence.

Another important aspect that is vital to the discussion of mental health on university campuses and in society as a whole is the effect of dominating, oppressive spaces on marginalized groups. Protesting and speaking out against injustices can have an extreme impact on a person's mental health especially when they are the individuals who are directly affected by the injustice(s), unfair treatment or discrimination.

Marginalized groups can feel suffocated or oppressed very easily in spaces that directly or indirectly dehumanizes their being and existence. For instance, students, who are battling to come to terms with their sexual orientation, can feel extremely exposed or inferior in a space that is opposed to their identity.

Trigger warning

The sad reality is that depression on campuses has caused many students to commit suicide. At the University of Cape Town, six students have died from "unnatural causes" which have been linked to depression and mental health issues.

At Wits University, a student jumped from the sixth floor of a Braamfontein building because she was suffering from severe depression. The fact of the matter is that these are just two universities in South Africa that have had upsetting suicide reports and many campuses face the same reality.

Moreover, it is paramount that universities and educational institutions prioritize mental health and focus on spreading awareness about it. From the beginning of Welcoming Week or Orientation Week, students should feel comfortable knowing that if they are not doing well mentally, that they have services on campus which they can access.

Residential and accommodation spaces on campuses need to be inclusive and open to all beings, identities and groups in order to prevent the excessive marginalization of oppressed groups. Student leaders, lecturers and staff of the university should go through some form of induction and training to be able to empathize and help students by making their situation easier.

The ongoing challenge of mental health is one that is not being discussed enough, and it is the lack of discussion which is causing many students who face mental health issues to fall through the cracks. University management, SRC's and other bodies on campus need to take depression and suicide more seriously, and the solutions need to be brought to the table.

If this cannot be achieved, then we will be betraying and preventing many potential young leaders from becoming the successful individuals that they were born to be.