Striking a balance between studies, mental health

By Charine Glen-Spyron and Albin Jacobs

THE world is becoming more competitive every day. Society has created this fear in us that if we are not highly qualified, have received education from the most prestigious universities and have at least five years’ experience, there is little to no chance that we will be able to pursue the careers we want to. The consequences of these beliefs are that we constantly feel this immense pressure to improve ourselves in one way or another. As you can imagine, this strain can have a detrimental impact on one’s mental health, which unfortunately is often ignored.

In Namibia we emphasise the importance of education and achieving good academic results. For many it is the only chance they have of getting a bursary and opportunity to study. In turn then positioning themselves for a good job, career and financial security. This creates a huge amount of strain and pressure on our youth to perform. Each new Namibian generation is told that they are the future and must build and contribute to creating a ‘knowledge-based’ society. Feeling the pressure yet?

Failing exams, not graduating to the next level, or not being accepted into the university or course you really wanted, immediately leads to feeling like a failure and being rejected. It’s something a lot of us have faced before. If one takes a look at school and tertiary education results which are released yearly in Namibia, it is an issue that needs to be spoken about and addressed.

So, let us have this open and honest discussion on the reality of studying at a tertiary institution and what it looks like. There’s this perception that students are; young, wild, free and happy.  But, is this the reality? We by no means want to discredit the fun and fulfilling life that universities can give us, but there’s a flipside as well. It’s important to stress the immense amount of stress and pressure that universities, college, family, friends and society put on students.

A great deal of confusion, worry and stress among our youth concerns their academic results and their future prospects. Whether it is depression, anxiety, suicidality or a myriad of physical ailments caused by stress and pressure, these are very real disorders among the youth. Adapting to a new and unfamiliar place, having to make new friends, high workload and taking on more responsibility as a young student can be extremely emotionally taxing.

Southern Business School Namibia’s main goal is to educate people that want to develop themselves and better their qualifications for present and future employers. This is an important mission, but if along the way we do not acknowledge and assist our students in giving them the right tools and help they need, we would be doing our students a great disservice.

The reality is our youth are far too often taking their own lives, self-harming or seeking solace and comfort in substance abuse as a coping mechanisms because of academic pressures and high demands. When results don’t meet the expectation of the students or their parents, their whole life seems to fall apart and become an incredibly lonely and dark place. Without the proper support network, students are left to flounder and have no outlet for their stress, disappointment, questions, feelings of anxiousness and depression. Southern Business School Namibia realises that mental health is a real issue and is therefore offering education in a way that is easy to fit in anyone’s environment.

Through education and awareness raising, we provide students with the necessary tools and techniques to learn how to deal with the high demands, disappointment and possible unfulfilled goals. There is a need to not only educate the students on mental health, but also to educate friends and family who may be piling on disproportionate pressure and expectations. By doing this we can break down the stigma attached to mental health and emphasise the importance of taking care of ourselves, both mentally as well as physically.

   The most important take-away is to remember to be supportive and realise what people have sacrificed and that they are doing their best to better themselves. Sometimes people might stumble, fall or completely break down. Support systems (the school, family and friends) need to be there to recognise when students are no longer coping and need help. Whether it be just needing to take some time off, or confiding in others, or seeking out professional help, we need to emphasise that it is okay to not always be okay and that there are people who they can reach out to.

Charine Glen-Spyron CEO, Clinical Psychologist Bel Esprit Hospital and Albin Jacobs Director, Southern Business School Namibia