15 October 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Valentino Ndaba
Mental health awareness
The UFS joined the global community in commemorating World Mental Health Day.

“This is not a conversation that should wait until people have taken their own lives or have been diagnosed,” said Tshepang Mahlatsi, Founder of Next Chapter, a student organisation that advocates for mental health. In commemoration of World Mental Health Day, the organisation hosted a dialogue around this year’s theme of Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention on 10 October 2019.

Mahlatsi further said: “The conversation around mental health is not one that should be reserved for September or October when we commemorate suicide prevention and World Mental Health Day. We should build a culture and tradition of having and normalising these conversations. This notion becomes highly relevant at institutions of higher learning where most students are affected by various factors, such as finances and academic anxiety.”

Dealing with the dilemma

This open discussion took place on the Bloemfontein Campus between students and a panel comprising Dr Ntswaki Setlaba and Dr Melissa Barnaschone.

Dr Setlaba, a consultant psychiatrist at Pelonomi Tertiary Hospital, said one of the symptoms of major depressive disorder is suicide. She highly recommends that early detection of depression is essential in order to prevent it escalating to a loss of more lives.

Director of the Office for Student Counselling and Development, Dr Barnaschone, supported the concept of early detection, citing that there are plans put in place to support students, such as workshops and the Student Mental Health Toolkit.

Medicine of the mind

Dr Fanie Meyer, a private psychiatrist based in Bloemfontein, described to staff members the effects of depression and anxiety on the brain. He presented a talk titled: Pain vs Depression: ‘The chicken or the egg?’ which was hosted by the Organisational Development and Employee Wellness division in collaboration with the Faculty of Health Sciences.

He also stressed the importance of early detection. “If you leave your pain running for 10 years, it will get worse. The same goes for anxiety,” said Dr Meyer. 

According to Burneline Kaars, Head of the Division, they are committed to changing attitudes about mental health and reducing the stigma experienced by those who live with it. “The focus is on educating staff about mental illness and empowering them to take action and promote mental wellbeing while it is still early.”  

Recognising the early symptoms of a mental disorder is an essential part of tackling the pandemic. Having the mental health conversation throughout the year instead of in September and October ought to further this agenda. 

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