By Chantelle Oosthuizen, Executive Director, Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust

Young people in South Africa have been struggling with the burden of mental health problems associated with poverty, disrupted learning, unemployment and even the Covid-19 pandemic.

Mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression are a concern among young adults and these issues require the attention of education institutions, bursary providers, student and youth organisations and Government.

Cyril Ramaphosa Education Trust (CRET) has always prioritised the mental well-being of its students as part of a holistic approach to tertiary education support. Holistic student support is vital to ensure the successful completion of studies and the social and economic return on investment by bursary providers. To better understand the mental health challenges of the students it supports, CRET conducted a survey among students aged between 18 and 26.

Of 51 respondents, 90.2% of students felt they’d benefit from discussions about anxiety and stress management. The mental load of tertiary education is made heavier when students are also dealing with the pressure of being the first generation in their family to go to university along with concerns around financial stability. Additionally, 98% of students said they’d like to learn more about time management and relatively common health conditions such as eczema, asthma, anaemia and hypotension among others. They also want information on skincare, dyslexia and cancer. Students who participated in the survey revealed that most young people don’t see their mental health as separate from physical health, instead they recognise that both are part of overall good health.

Learning how to manage stress is a valuable skill that can help one achieve a better work-life balance as well as contribute towards creating a society that is healthier, both physically and emotionally. CRET provides access to mental health professionals to all its beneficiary students. Feedback from students who make use of these services is that it helps them acclimatise to student life, gives them a safe space to speak about their struggles, and helps them respond in a healthy, productive manner so they can continue to focus on their academic goals.

Helping our young people make the most of these precious years of learning lays the foundation for good health further in adulthood with the added benefit of producing graduates who know how to manage their stress in the work environment. Our youth also play a critical role in breaking down stigmas surrounding mental health. All stakeholders should support them with services and information that aids greater awareness and condition management. Tertiary students have already faced enormous challenges with the pandemic and there is an opportunity to change the system for the better. They’re asking for our help – it’s time to heed their call.