The Faculty of Health Sciences hosted a mental health awareness week to address the stigmas around mental illness

Mental health is often a stigmatised subject which leaves individuals feeling unable to address or speak out about the difficulties they face in their lives.

This was the widespread sentiment at the #TimeToTalk segment of the Mental Health Awareness Week campaign, running from Monday, July 30, to Thursday, August 2, at the Parktown Health Sciences Campus.

The week-long campaign, hosted by the Faculty of Health Sciences, targeted mental health as a problem affecting students and staff. It was aimed at creating awareness about the ways that individuals could help themselves and those around them that are living with mental illnesses.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”.

According to a 2017 WHO report, South Africa had nearly 407 578 people suffering from major depressive disorder, with the figure rising by 58% from 1990 to 2013. Such disorders manifest themselves in a number of ways, such as alcoholism, substance abuse and anxiety.

The campaign had special significance because of the death on Friday, July 27, of Professor Bongani Mayosi, the dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Cape Town. According to a family statement, Prof Mayosi committed suicide after suffering from depression for the past two years.

“As Prof Mayosi was an esteemed colleague and scientist, it is most relevant that we take a moment to not only acknowledge his global contribution to medicine, medical education, research and to public health practice, but that we begin to embrace initiatives that seek to destigmatise mental health illness,” said Ntsiki Mapukata, the head of department of student support at the Wits Medical campus.

Mayosi, a top cardiologist, was an A-rated National Research Foundation researcher and had also been awarded the Order of Mapungubwe, one of the country’s highest honours, in 2009.

The death of the Mthatha-born professor is devastating for students and staff alike. However, it has helped shed light on the issues surrounding mental health in academia.
“It is really unfortunate. It is eye-opening because it is not a student but a staff member in the faculty,” said fifth-year MBBCh student, Noella Abahirwa, who was one of the organisers of the campaign.

“It is as if big things have to happen before people take notice. The fact that it was a faculty member means that we should not only focus on students when considering mental health at universities,” she said.

Micayla Mohunlal, a fourth-year MBBCh student, said that the news highlighted a huge problem in the faculties of health sciences, adding that the “competitive” culture that the faculty breeds can have a lasting impact on individuals even after university.

“The problem is that people are scared of speaking about mental health because of the whole stigma around it. It is like, as a doctor, you must be able to take care of yourself before you can take care of others,” Mohunlal said.

FEATURED IMAGE: The “competitive culture” of health faculty has negative impact, say students


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