HEALTH FOCUS: Wits campus counselling unit improves services and facilities

Originally published in Wits Vuvuzela, April 21, 2018.

Wits CCDU has improved their facilities after students complained about having to wait to see a therapist.

In October last year Wits University student Kago Moeng jumped off the sixth-floor balcony of the Blackburn building in Braamfontein. Her death sparked the hashtag #BraamSuicide which also consisted of a number of complaints about the shortcomings of mental health support at Wits University. Many students spoke out about how the Counselling, Careers and Development Unit (CCDU) at Wits did not provide enough services for students struggling with through mental health issues.

The students claimed that CCDU was not equipped well enough for students, that there were long waiting lists and after three psychologist sessions students were asked to find therapy sessions elsewhere, often unaffordable.

Educational Psychologist at CCDU, Shameen Naidu, said that while the mental health wellness of students is always a key priority to them, their small team is not always equipped to deal with the number of students that need help.

Naidu said, “Mental health concerns and students’ wellbeing is always a concern for CCDU and we are available to students who require our services. It must, however, be noted that we do have a small team considering the number of students on campus. As a result, students may have had to wait to be seen for an intake consultation, as we see students on a walk-in basis.”

Naidu told Wits Vuvuzela that last year, due to this dilemma, the waiting list for students requiring therapy became very long and students had to wait until therapists became available for additional support during the busy periods of time.

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GRAPHIC: Naeemah Dudan

A former Wits BSc student, *Thabo Maleki, said that he didn’t know what was wrong with him as he faced the symptoms of depression and that his lecturers were not equipped to deal with his mental health issues. “I told my lecturers but they did not know how to help. Some thought I was using depression as an excuse to get concessions and leniency,” he said.

Maleki said that he has been to CCDU but was only placed on waiting lists and, in first year, was given an assessment to see a life coach. He said that he struggled as a first year because everyone told him that this is how first years adjust to the new campus life. “In my four years at the university, I saw four therapists,” said Maleki, which he said caused instability in his road to recovery.

Former Wits student, *Morgan Leau told the Wits Vuvuzela that she was worried about failing because of her anxiety and depression. When she went to seek help at CCDU, they told her to Google breathing techniques.

Naidu said that there has been an improvement in the way that CCDU handles students’ mental health issues. “The CCDU’s therapy team have changed our system in a way that helps to reduce the waiting period to be seen for an intake consultation. Following this intake consult, we have also changed our booking procedure so that students requiring additional support and therapy, are provided with a follow-up therapy appointment as soon as possible,” she said.

CCDU offers training on ‘Students on Emotional Risk’ for staff and those in leadership positions so that they are able to attend to the mental health needs of students better.

*Names have been changed.

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