Rhodes University is committed to providing a safe and supportive environment for its students. It also strives to provide a nurturing student support system and a wide range of residential, athletic, cultural, and leadership opportunities to promote the holistic development of its students. Last week, the Division of Student Affairs (DSA), in conjunction with the Council of Student Representatives, hosted a Mental Health and Wellness Awareness Week at the Steve Biko Lawns.
The University has adopted a framework to operationalize the development needs of students holistically. This new approach encompasses the spiritual, mental, social, physical and emotional (SMSPE) domains of well-being. Mental Health Awareness Week was held with this in mind.
DSA Director Nomangwane Mrwetyana said, “After the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen a gradual increase in the number of students struggling with mental health and wellbeing issues and our counseling center did not cope in terms of capacity. We had to relaunch a different approach and model to deal with mental health issues on campus. We have now moved to a preventative model and approach, as our intentions are to prevent and manage mental health for students to lead healthy lives in a healthy environment.
Mrwetyana gave a meaningful description of the profound new approach to mental health and wellbeing. “The new approach we have taken is an integrated and holistic approach to wellbeing, encouraging our students to care for themselves and others across five dimensions of wellbeing,” she said. She said the five dimensions are: social well-being, where students have the ability to build relationships, because most of the time these issues are most likely and relevantly much easier if a student shares their thoughts with a friend than a professional would expect.
Emotional well-being is the second dimension, as it talks about the ability to become aware of one’s feelings and how to deal with them. Physical well-being is about encouraging students to take care of themselves physically, and it has to do with their healthy diet, exercise, etc. Spiritual well-being, a fourth dimension, is about having a meaningful purpose in life, and it’s not just about having to go to church. It is also about having a higher power of your own understanding and finding meaningful purpose from a spiritual perspective. The final dimension is the mental well-being of students. Mrwetyana said this dimension relates to the academic life of students and their ability to be curious, read and learn. “We have an acronym that we use for these dimensions, #SMSPE, which covers all five dimensions,” she added.
Mrwetyana emphasized social welfare and said the university needs to create more spaces on campus for students to socialize and participate in recreational activities. During Mental Health Awareness Week, the university worked with stakeholders including GARDMED, Higher Health and South African Police Service. “When it comes to wellness, we have trained Wellness Leaders, who are an extension of the services we provide to students, our ears on the ground, who provide direction and awareness of the services available to students,” said Mrwetyana.