Dr Paulette Naidoo, Director: Student Counselling, said that the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that close to 800 000 people die every year as a result of suicide. “Suicide is a global problem affecting people of all ages, races, class and social backgrounds. Research and clinical statistics reveal a link between depression and suicide,” said Dr Naidoo. Mangosuthu University of Technology is not immune to the problem of depression and suicide, with the monthly statistics of the Student Counselling unit reflecting high numbers of depression and suicide risks, especially amongst students in the residences.
Student Counselling reaffirmed its commitment to dealing with these challenges by organising a Depression and Suicide Awareness and Prevention workshop for wardens and residence assistants. The workshop was initiated by Dr Naidoo, in collaboration with Gugu Madlala, Head of Student Housing, and the Dean of Students, Thembi Kweyama. The workshop, which took place on 7 August 2019, covered various aspects of depression and suicide identification and management. Workshop highlights included experiential exercises, group dialogues and brainstorming sessions, with group participants demonstrating commendable teamwork and enthusiasm.
According to Dr Naidoo, University life poses academic and social adjustment challenges, especially for first-years. “Students can become emotionally and academically overwhelmed, leading to feelings of hopelessness, despair and suicidal thoughts,” said Dr Naidoo. Dr Naidoo added that certain triggers appear to increase student susceptibility to depression and suicide at tertiary institutions. She said those include adjustment difficulties, lack of social support, poor academic performance, and a mismatch between study choice, interests, preferences and academic potential. “Relationship and family problems also feature prominently in the profiles of depressed and suicidal students at MUT, as well as reports of historical and recent trauma and abuse, victimization and discrimination, loss and grief, inadequate social support systems, low self-esteem, poor coping mechanisms and problem-solving skills. Other contributing factors included financial difficulties and substance abuse,” said Dr Naidoo.
Dr Naidoo added that the stigma attached to mental illness and the negative stereotypes associated with seeking professional help, perpetuated a culture of silence that deters people from getting help. “In addition, there is a tendency to minimize the importance of mental health and its link to overall well-being and holistic development,” said Dr Naidoo.
Despite the grim statistics on depression and suicide, Dr Naidoo believes that the problem can be tackled through a combination of responsive and proactive methods, and the collective involvement of the entire MUT community. To this end, the Student Counselling team have committed to increasing awareness and understanding, empowering staff and students on the early detection and management of depression and suicide risks, as well as preventative measures that include workshops for students on problem-solving, coping skills, stress management and self-esteem.
Suicide Awareness posters were put up at strategic points on campus and all the residences. The posters contain information on common symptoms of depression and suicidal symptoms, as well as emergency contact numbers and resources which students can access. Due to the high demand for training and support in this area, Dr Naidoo is exploring partnerships with mental health NPO’s in the community as part of the unit’s stakeholder engagement strategy.