by Pamela Maringa

Thousands of students all over South Africa will be sitting for their exams this summer. During this time many students feel overwhelmed and experience high levels of stress. Some may try and find ways to overcome and deal with the stress, but many students will sink deeper into depression.

Not so long ago there were news reports about university students committing suicide. A first year student at the University of Pretoria attempted to commit suicide by hanging herself. Then a week later, Kago Moagi, a 19-year old student at University of the Witwatersrand, jumped from the sixth floor of building in Braamfontein.

Many students at universities suffer from depression and anxiety. They find it difficult to study, sleep and eat. They may become angry and isolate themselves.

I remember when I was doing my first year in BA Drama at the University of Pretoria. I had up to nine modules for one semester. These modules included the acting, singing and movement classes. After classes we would have long hours of rehearsals that would often last up to midnight. I was always tired and anxious about my other modules. Because we spend lot of time in rehearsal spaces, if there was an hour’s break between classes we would use that to sleep on the grass. This was so we would have energy to study later.

On one occasion, after spending a long time preparing for our acting exam, everyone was so depressed and exhausted. Almost everyone had taken up smoking as a coping mechanism. , We had more smoke breaks than air breaks. Some students would cry when we talked about it amongst ourselves. Others thought maybe they had chosen the wrong career. The thought crossed my mind. I felt overworked and it seemed like varsity was a nightmare. I would often watch other students enjoy their student life. I didn’t have many friends because I was just too busy.

One day we sat down after rehearsal with the head of the drama department. She arranged to have a counsellor and tutors in the department so we could talk to. It did help me release some of my stress, but it was too late for some students. They dropped out. One of the students in my class committed suicide by jumping off the highest building in the university.

Every time I went home I had to pretend that everything was fine. Everyone expected me to be doing well, as I had done in high school. I also didn’t want them to think that I wasn’t coping. There was too much that my parents had to sacrifice for me to go to university. In my third year I was diagnosed with arthritis. I had overworked my body.

I think one of the contributing factors to depression in students, is that high school doesn’t prepare students for what will happen in university. In high school you get away with just 35% while university wants a pass mark of 50%.That is why we have such a huge number of varsity drop outs and students who commit suicide. The universities should perhaps consider the work load they give to students. In my experience, nine modules for a student fresh out of high school is too much. There should be communication between universities and high schools. Workshops could be helpful where matric learners could be given an idea of how things are done in university.

The student support offered in and off campus by universities has proven not to be sufficient Students are put on a waiting list to be seen for an appointment. A lot can happen during that waiting period. Students are not getting speedy assistance. Universities need more counselling services in and outside campus. One solution could be an effective free 24 hour counselling number in every university. Students could call the service at any time of the day or night. This would allow students who have problems to find help and support as they need it.

In the meantime, students should learn to open up to their families and friends about the difficulties they are facing. They should know that they are not expected to it on their own. I only realised later that if I had shared my difficulties and challenges with my parents it would have made things less stressful. It wouldn’t made me weak. Instead, home would have been that place where I gathered the strength with which to face the challenges of student life.

If you fail you can still try again, but when you die, it’s final. Let’s be gentle with ourselves and remember that every life is worth living.