24 December 2018 | Story Charlene Stanley | Photo Anja Aucamp
Guardians of Mental Health
The people who look after Kovsies’ mental wellbeing are from the left: Dr Melissa Barnaschone (Student Counseling and Development), Burneline Kaars (Employee Wellness), Tshepang Mahlatsi (Next Chapter), Arina Engelbrecht (Employee Wellness), and Angie Vorster (School of Medicine).

In a demanding academic environment, mental-health challenges are an unavoidable reality.

October is traditionally Mental Health Awareness Month, and a time to focus on the various initiatives and people who look after Kovsies’ mental wellbeing.

“Our students are bright and very resilient. But even they sometimes struggle to cope,” says Angie Vorster, Clinical Psychologist for the School of Medicine’s plus-minus 700 students. Her diary for individual therapy sessions is booked weeks in advance.

“For many students the transition from school to university can be quite stressful. Many come from protected rural environments and are overwhelmed by their newly-found independence. There’s also often the pressure of high expectations from home – especially for first-generation students.”

The value of peer support is something Dr Melissa Barnaschone, Director of Student Counselling and Development, fully believes in. Apart from individual counselling sessions, her department offers a host of self-development workshops ranging from anger management and relaxation tips, to time management and basic study skills.

“Students often confuse the normal stress and anxiety they experience before tests and exams with a deeper psychological problem,” she says.

She stresses the importance of the fact that students should not wait too long before getting involved with the programmes offered by her department.

When it comes to the mental wellbeing of staff, the UFS Employee Wellness office has arranged weekly talks by specialists on topics such as ‘Compassion Fatigue’, ‘Post-traumatic Stress Disorder’, and ‘Making sense of difficult personalities’ during the period of September to November.

A person who has come full circle with mental-health issues, is Tshepang Mahlatsi. This promising Law student and former prime of the Tswelopele residence, founded Next Chapter, a student-run organisation that offers weekly peer sessions where students support and encourage one another. “There must be two-way communication,” he stresses. “Al these initiatives and resources mean nothing if those in need don’t communicate that they have a problem. No-one should suffer in silence.”

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