Depression in institutions of higher learning
Course is chowing. Course is demanding. Course is stressing. These are just some of the most popular phrases you hear around university campuses. There’s a hidden meaning behind these phrases. They are Survival mechanisms in the jungle of the academic world such as academic achievement, financial problems, problems at home, unrealistic expectations and horrors inflicted by studies and inevitable leading to a stressful life. To some extent, these feelings of anxiety are just too much to bear.
The plague inflicted by studies are heavy and they get heavier with every progress through one’s studies and once their career future starts to kick in. As a result, the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) has revealed that, one in four university students are likely to be diagnosed with depression- on the other hand, 20% have admitted to having had suicidal thoughts at some point during their tertiary studies.
The increasing depression in universities has been a big elephant in the room across all universities and colleges in South Africa. Moreover, this statistic is showing that universities are doing next to nothing to support in dealing with stress and anxiety that comes with being a student. Albeit, universities provide facilities and services to offer support with mental health, they seem not to be addressing the problems faced by students.
Suicide is the second highest killer after accidents amongst young people in universities. And, scaring enough is the number of attempted suicides that are recorded yearly. At times, parents have picked-up their phones and ringed their children to drop-out from studies if they cannot copy with the work-load of studies. Because a university degree is not valuable than their children’s lives
University are anti-black establishments.
The transformation of universities is at a snail-pace that is frustrating. Black working-class students are finding it difficult to survive in these high demanding institutions. Faced with poverty, institutional racism, western epistemology and institutions that excludes them on the basis of race and class. To survive their misery, they restore to committing suicide in order to escape their suffering and pains in universities.
These institutions of higher learning remain to be inclusive to black working-class students on the surface but once you put them under the microscope- it exposes them that, these institutions are anti-poor and black. Their structures and their modus-operandi are unaccommodating to those who are from poor backgrounds. Before it could assimilate you- it strips you off your pride of belonging, culture, language and capability of performing equally with other students.
To fight, hunger, university parades black working-class students on long-queues of feeding-schemes that provide two slices of bread with margarine and jam for breakfast. For lunch, which to some students it’s supper depends on which day of the week it is. The costs to provide this food-assistances cost about millions of Rands but the meal on the take-away packs says something else different. This response from universities is to further remind poor black students of their social inequality and alienate them from feeling part of university spaces.
Student debts and blacklisting
In this dire economic crisis, universities continue to exclude students financially and those who have not settled-out their accounts are reminded by texts, letters, emails and student portals of their debts. Reminding them of their inevitable fate of being excluded if they don’t make payment to their accounts before the end of the academic year. Consequently, this continues to impact negatively on their academic performances. Therefore, resulting in students to fail in excelling in their studies. A further Insult, to the poor is the constant reminders of emails and phone-calls from university debt collectors that are stalking poor students to settle their historical debts and threating them with legal action which results in blacklisting of these vulnerable student.
Happy hop and Bouncy-bouncy heals depression
There are little efforts from the government and universities to tackle the pandemic of depression. They have reduced the root causes of suicides to unhappy and sad generation of youth. And, this was endorsed by the Wits SRC together with the management by offering jumping castles to help deal with depression amongst their students. Our responses, in generally also has failed to deal with suicides and has been to hashtags on social platforms about bringing awareness on the other hand, ignoring the root cause.
Education must be for the purpose of knowledge
The prevalence of depression amongst students present a major challenge to all universities and these universities want to treat depression as something that doesn’t exist.
Universities should be accommodating to black students- decolonisation should be a fundamentally in all universities not only through inclusion of black students in universities but by ensuring that black students feel part of the university space. The curriculum should reflect African epistemology and deconstruct the Eurocentric methods of teaching that further alienate black students.
The government must to provide free quality education to all students and tax the rich to fund student’s fees if necessary. Moreover, the R1440 monthly allowance provided to students registered with NSFAS is not enough to sustain and eradicate inequalities in the university. Therefore, the amount that should be allocated to students must be calculated through the Consumer Price Index (CPI) basket of goods and services and this will provide a reasonable living allowance to students.
Moreover, the grading system through exams should be eradicated as exams stand in a way of a just society. The present a form of determinism and strongly discourages any new creativity on the exams. They are more about what students have crammed and whether they are able to transfer what they crammed on an answer sheet for two hours. This exert pressure on students to perform well for the world of capitalism exploitation.
Conducive environment must be created within university spaces that will allow students to excel well. University entrance scores should not be gate-keepers to keep out people who want to study but do not meet the requirements. To deal with mental health, services should not only be free but accessible enough to everyone. Courses must not be for the purpose of preparing students for the world of work but should be for the purpose of creating critical thinkers and develop knowledge for humanity.