NATIONAL NEWS - Higher Health, the national agency of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET), recently implemented a holistic mental health initiative and launched a 24/7 student and staff helpline. These efforts were lauded by the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande.
In a press release earlier today, the department said the initiative will address the mental health needs of the two million students and staff who make up the university and college community in the country.
“South Africa must take note of statements by the United Nations, the World Health Organisation and local experts, that the mental health and wellbeing of whole societies have been severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic and are an urgent priority,” said Nzimande.
He said that Covid-19 is intensifying anxiety, depression, feelings of loneliness and fear due to economic and academic uncertainties. “So, we must support the mental and psychosocial wellbeing of our post school education and training sector in equal measure as we implement measures to prevent and manage Covid-19 within our institutions,” he emphasised.
This is a tailor-made, three-step programme that considers why and how students and staff may be impacted and how to assist individuals who experience problems.
The first level entails as student-led peer-to-peer programme, which will help create awareness and will introduce initiatives to increase students’ psychological resilience. The peer-to-peer counselling is enhanced through mental health self-risk assessments and various communication initiatives, which will enable students to better recognise and reduce anxiety, stress and depression, which would help prevent suicide.
Nzimande said this programme can at the same time help address the detrimental psychosocial and physical effects of gender-based violence, which is a recognised challenge to the post-schooling sector.
The programme is supported by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag).
On secondary level, a 24-hour toll-free student and staff helpline has been introduced in alliance with Sadag. The service will provide free telephonic and SMS counselling, crisis intervention and support in 11 official languages. Students and staff across all campuses can be referred to mental health professionals and other psychosocial resources through this service.
The third level entails the appointment of 10 additional clinical psychologists who will work across the country to provide counselling, care and support, and bring relevant cases in contact with the appropriate professionals.
Daily HealthCheck tool
The mental health initiative follows the recent launch of Higher Health’s “HealthCheck” tool. This daily screening and monitoring tool is secure to use and transmits data directly to the national Covid-19 tracking system.
All students and staff are asked to use it every day to assess their own level of risk before they enter campuses. Based on the individual’s responses to the risk assessment on the platform, the person receives a message with a risk reading. If the risk is low, the individual will receive clearance valid for 24 hours, or be advised on follow-up actions in case of raised risk.
Nzimande said all programmes and interventions place the needs of students and staff in the post-school education and training sector at the centre of the department’s Covid-19 combat strategies.
“We are confident that the Mental Health Service will go a long way to helping students and staff cope with the heightened complexities of this academic year, but it is also a valuable investment in the future health and wellness of our students and staff.”
How to access the Higher Health 24-hour student helpline:
• Toll-free call 0800 36 36 36
• SMS 43-33-6
How to access HealthCheck:
• Dial using USSD line (does not require data): *134*832*2#
• Add to WhatsApp contacts: 0600 11 0 000 and say HI:
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