Depression in institutions of higher learning is on the rise worldwide, according to an expert, after three Wits university students committed suicide this week.
Two more female students were rushed to hospital after apparent suicide attempts.
As the examination period draws near, student activists took to Twitter to call for universities to take more responsibility for mental health issues affecting students.
Last week, two students at the University of Pretoria also died in apparent suicides, while 23 suicide attempts were reported at that institution for the year.
Educational psychologist Vanessa Barnes said the dire state of the economy increased the pressures on students to perform well academically in order to get a job.
Undiagnosed mental problems compounded this as they could not perform to the best of their ability while suffering from depression or anxiety.
One of the students who allegedly committed suicide this week, Mpumelelo Tshabalala, was struggling with a postgraduate course as he was juggling studying with earning money to support himself, according to one of his friends on social media.
“Many factors contribute to depression and anxiety, including, but not limited to, chemical imbalances, genetic predisposition, poor nutrition and sleeping patterns, trauma and stress,” said Barnes.
“Sadly, there is a stigma surrounding depression as well as cultural perceptions about mental health that cause students not to reach out for help. Unfortunately, the depression becomes overwhelming and often leads to suicide.”
Barnes added that social media, the internet and incidences of celebrity suicide all contributed to this phenomenon.
“Romanticism of suicide does occur as a result of pop culture and is not only limited to first world countries, but to developing countries such as South Africa as well.
“There have been many incidences of students making a plea for help on social media which, left unanswered, resulted in suicide.”
In places such as the UK, suicide rates are on the rise, according to Barnes. But it is not limited to developed countries.
Research was being conducted to find the cause and patterns among these students in countries such as Kenya and Brazil.
“Society is failing us by not recognising mental health difficulties as an illness.
“The stigma attached to mental disorders make people feel uncomfortable asking for help. Awareness campaigns are particularly important.”