The past three to four weeks have been unbelievably difficult for me, struggling with mental health issues that threatened to get out of hand. I am slowly recovering and finding my zest for life again. But this led me to this thought: Mental health challenges have drastically increased in South Africa; every second person I have spoken to is suffering from some sort of mental health illness, and every third person I have interacted with is on medication.
It is interesting that the government has not prioritized this illness, especially in public health facilities. Mental illness awareness and education are mild to moderate, yet people are going through mental hell. The private sector, similar to the government, does not have programs for these health challenges, and workplaces are often the source of these challenges.
The education institutions, both basic and higher, shockingly do not cater to students with mental challenges. I used to be part of the church program called Kohin. This program trained “Youth Coaches” in basic psychology and counseling skills. The Youth Coaches were then placed at schools across different communities, where they provided extra support to the teaching staff by handling issues facing students.
This program relieved teachers of an extra load that they are already burdened with in overcrowded classes. The program sadly relied heavily on funding, which made it difficult for most Youth Coaches to continue with it due to a lack of funding. But this program was a game-changer for schools and families.
Mental health is a critical issue, especially among students, and it’s important for educational institutions to address it effectively. While I can provide some general information and suggest possible actions, please note that specific actions may vary depending on the context. Here are a few suggestions for what the Department of Education could consider doing to combat mental illness issues:
- Increase funding: Adequate funding is crucial for providing resources, training, and mental illness services within educational institutions. The Department of Education could advocate for more funding or allocate a higher budget specifically for mental challenges support.
- Improve awareness: The department could promote campaigns and initiatives to raise awareness about mental health issues among students, parents, teachers, and staff. This could include educational programs, workshops, and seminars to reduce stigma and increase understanding.
- Expand services: Investing in school-based mental health services, such as hiring additional counselors or psychologists, can allow for early intervention and support for those in need. These professionals can provide assessments, counseling, and referrals for further treatment when necessary.
- Implement preventive measures: Incorporating mental health education into the curriculum can help students develop coping strategies, stress management techniques, and emotional resilience. This proactive approach can promote overall well-being and reduce the likelihood of mental health problems.
- Collaboration with external organizations: The department can collaborate with mental health organizations, healthcare providers, and community resources to enhance the support provided to students. These partnerships can help expand services and ensure a comprehensive approach to mental health care.
- Establish helplines and hotlines: Setting up dedicated helplines or hotlines that provide immediate support and assistance can be valuable for students, parents, and teachers who are seeking help or information regarding mental health concerns.
- Conduct research and data collection: The department can prioritize research to identify trends and patterns related to mental health concerns among students. By collecting accurate and up-to-date data, policies and interventions can be tailored to address specific needs effectively.
- Remember, effective mental health support requires a multi-faceted approach and collaboration among various stakeholders. It’s important to continue advocating for improvements in mental health services provided by the Department of Education to ensure the well-being of students.
Students are preparing for the final exams, and one cannot imagine the pressure that comes with that. However, students do not have an outlet where they can pour out about mental challenges; instead, we often see weird actions that indicate that students are goishing strong.
As an editor of this magazine facing similar challenges, I am happy to join forces in bringing solutions to schools with regard to these challenges.