18 August 2021
The Africa University Counselling Unit held a workshop for student leaders in the Student Representative Council, Student Union Parliament and community leaders in peer to peer counselling. Highly skilled trainers were drawn from Africa University’s Counselling Unit led by University Counsellor Mr. Chiuswa, the Zimbabwe Open University and the Harare Institute of Technology.
The purpose of the training is to train young leaders in how to counsel and how to be counselled, making the pursuit of help in challenging circumstances the norm . Mental health and its importance in the overall health of communities is still an area that is little understood in Africa and is surrounded by stigma. Feelings of depression for example among students are often discounted as mood swings however when these feelings become pervasive, interfere with thought clarity, robs those affected of motivation to get through the day and gives way to suicidal ideation, many youth find themselves isolated and with nowhere to turn to.
Depression is the most common of mental disorders with more than 264 million people affected worldwide according to the World Health Organization. More women are affected by depression than men.
Dean of Students Mr. George Miti said counselling is even more important considering the times that we live in currently where the Pandemic has added another layer of complexity to mental health wellbeing where many have been isolated from colleagues, friends and support systems that would help them cope. He went on to say,
” We need to create an environment where people feel safe enough to seek help. No one should suffer in silence and think that persistent unhappiness is ok. It is not and we need to look out for one another.”
Students in tertiary institutions face a number of challenges that can affect their mental health with only 10% seeking help . Students who have sought out counselling to overcome these challenges have been shown to improve academically and socially with peer counselling bridging the mental health gap.
To better understand issues they may be confronted with, participants learned of the common challenges facing university students which include peer pressure, financial stress, loneliness, pressure balancing studies and family/social responsibilities, substance abuse and toxic relationships.
Event facilitator and Campus Life Coordinator Mrs Zuweni said,
“These problems do not spare anyone whether it is students or staff. Creating peer educators helps to provide help to those who need it as some may not come forward to a staff member but would do so to a fellow student or age peer. We all would love to help those whom we see in situations of vulnerability but it is even more important to be able to help someone in crisis in the correct manner. This is what this training is all about.”
Africa University prides itself on creating a student friendly, safe and inclusive environment that allows individuals from the various communities and socio economic backgrounds that make up the diverse fabric of the university to thrive and develop as individuals who know their worth and are valued.