While students are preparing for final exams, the University of Pretoria has seemingly been plagued by depression and anxiety issues, which has led to 23 students attempting suicide this year alone.
At least two students succeeded.
About 100 students silently marched across the main campus yesterday, calling on the institution to beef up their mental healthcare facilities as it was not enough to cater for all students and staff.
According to SRC president Kwena Moloto, the institution only has 16 psychologists who have to cater to 60 000 students.
“As SRC and students, we understand the financial constraints in the higher education sector. We are not calling for an increase in staff but the university needs to engage us on various programmes to deal with issues of mental heath, before we get to a point of seeing psychologists and committing suicide,” he said.
A 19-year-old law student, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Citizen that he tried to take his life three times in the last four months.
He said the thoughts of ending his life started during the June exams as he was overwhelmed by issues at home, fees in arrears and failing two modules.
“That put me in a dark space not to talk to anyone because I found it embarrassing that I failed for the first time and I also didn’t want to disappoint my parents. Since I had stomach spasms, I took the painkillers which I got on campus and drank the whole bottle. Luckily, I was able to wake up the next morning,” he said.
But several weeks later the young student found himself back in the dark space as semester tests were coming up.
“My family was also not doing good and my academics started to slump. I decided to buy three bottles of cough syrup. When I realised it was not working, I mixed dishwashing liquid with an energy drink and drank it. My body started shutting down. I called the campus care line and they helped me out.”
The student said he was soon diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but he again tried to commit suicide two weeks ago by taking the prescribed antidepressants.
After surviving this third attempt, the student said the university helped by taking him to a psychiatric hospital.
Moloto said a memorandum of demands was handed over to the university management but they are also to soon launch an online petition.
“If someone came on campus and shot a student, there would be an investigation and security would be increased, but we allow students time again to try and take their lives. I have seen so many students succeed in suicide and nothing is done about it. It’s totally unacceptable.”
But the university is concerned about the well-being of the students and has an agreement with the South African Depression Anxiety Group (Sadag) to provide 24-hour telephonic assistance to all students.
“Students in residences are encouraged to speak to their house parents when they need additional support. We also appeal to students and staff experiencing emotional difficulties to approach any of the 16 psychologists. Individual and group counselling is available through the Student Counselling Unit on each campus,” said spokesperson Rikus Delport.