Support for students as suicide rates rise

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Photo: Anotidashe Mukombachoto

On 4 August a student at the Jasmyn residence attempted suicide. According to UP spokesperson, Rikus Delport, TuksRes alerted emergency services as soon as they became aware of the situation and the student was released into the care of her parents after receiving the necessary medical attention. Delport said, “The house mother and her team did everything in their control to ensure the student received the help she needed.” He further went on to say, “Counselling support was offered to the students involved and we encourage those who still feel the need it to make use of the University’s counselling services on campus.”

According to the SRC deputy secretary, Kutlwano Mositi, the SRC had a meeting with UP principal and vice-chancellor, Prof. Cheryl de la Rey, and vice-principal responsible for Student Affairs and Residence Affairs and Accommodation, Prof. Themba Mosia, on 10 October with regard to raising awareness about mental health issues and suicide prevention. “We are in the process of raising more awareness for students who need counselling, but we also want to ensure that the university creates an environment where students have psychologists [available] to attend to whatever mental problems they may be facing,” said Mositi.

Mositi conveyed that the SRC wanted to advocate for more psychological assistance for students and would try by all means necessary to ensure that the university employs interns (Honours and Masters Students) to assist the student support department to ensure that more students are assisted.

Mositi explained that Prof. de la Rey had informed the SRC that Prof. Eric Buch, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences, “was benchmarking at other universities such as the University of Johannesburg and the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) to see how their health institutions are set up”.

On 14 October, a 19 year-old Wits student committed suicide by jumping from the sixth floor of a building in Braamfontein, Johannesburg. Soon social media was flooded with messages of condolences and #BraamSuicide become a trending topic with many South Africans and had university students calling out tertiary institutions for not doing enough to support their students’ mental health needs.

James Kieran Smith, a UP student, tweeted, “I can’t speak for Wits but the support systems at @UPTuks is terrible. One/two month wait for psychologist. Cc @perdebynews.” Hanlé Kirkcaldy of the UP Student Counselling Division disputed this. “When you walk in on any given day, there is a process called the screening service. That is a triage service and that will determine the urgency of your contact. So if you have a serious problem that you present with, you will be followed up even as soon as the next day. If the complaint is something that for some reason can wait, there might be a one or two week delay,” she said. Kirkcaldy believes that “for a very small unit that offers free services to the whole student population the waiting period [in the student counselling unit] is not long” compared to other service providers. “The wait for psychologists in private practice is roughly two months, while the wait for a psychiatrist is up to six months”. Kirkealdy further added that a memorandum of understanding with the SADAG careline exists so that Student Support can deal with emergencies after hours as well. “We take suicide threats very, very seriously and have processes in place to manage it”.

Delport says that during Welcoming Week all first year students are made aware of the on-campus support structures available to students that are struggling. “Being aware of the mental-health challenges in society, TuksRes will embark on a residence wide awareness campaign in this regard again.”, added Delport.

Over the past few decades South African suicide rates have steadily increased, with suicide contributing for about 8% of total deaths in the country, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG). According to SADAG, the suicide rate for white males (aged 15-24) has tripled since 1950, the suicide rate for white females (aged 15-24) has more than doubled, while the suicide rate for black males (aged 15-24) has increased by two thirds (66%) in the past fifteen years. SADAG say “Suicide is the second leading cause of death amongst university students”, while they have also stated that “as many as 20% of college students have suicidal thoughts at some point in their college career.”

The increase in the suicide rate of university students can be attributed to social, academic and physical changes, which can be overwhelming to students. According to SADAG some of the biggest problems faced by university students are “greater academic demands, the loss of social support, the challenge of being in a new environment, changes in family relations, increased financial responsibilities and a heightened awareness of their sexual identity and orientation”, while the largest percentage of suicide cases are due to depression and other psychological disorders.

SADAG recommend that those concerned that loved ones may be depressed and suicidal should be aware of signs like a change in sleeping patterns, change in appetite or weight, speaking or moving with unusual speed or slowness, fatigue or loss of energy, feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach or guilt, extreme anxiety, agitation or enraged behaviour, excessive drug and/or alcohol use or abuse and a history of physical or mental illness. These signs should be taken seriously as most suicide cases usually happen after victims give some sort of warning to family and friends. The student counselling division’s building is located next to the Student Centre and opposite Tukkiewerf entrance.

Their office hours are weekdays 07:30 – 15:30.

UP Careline: 0800 747 747

24-hour crisis service line: 0800 0064 28 or 012 420 2310

Written by: Sam Mukwamu and Ditebogo Tshaka
Originally published: perdeby.co.za/sections/news/5823-support-for-students-as-suicide-rates-rise