Depression on the rise among varsity students

Monday, March 7th, 2022 01:19 | By
University of Nairobi Vice Chancellor professor Stephen Kiama joins students for a 5.7km walk. PD/MATHEW NDUNG’U

For many students, attending a university means a step closer to achieving their dreams. Many consider it a way to leverage promising career prospects. Knowledge is acquired, life shaped, relationship started, among other opportunities. Yet in the recent past, depression, — a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest — has been on the rise amongst these students.

A study by researchers at the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Nairobi (UoN), Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) and other collaborating researchers found that 36 per cent of university students were depressed. Of these, 39 per cent were female students while 34 per cent were male.

Depressive illness was significantly more common among the first-year students, those who were married; those who were economically disadvantaged and those living off campus. Other variables significantly related to higher depression levels included year of study, academic performance, religion and college attended. Logistic regression showed that those students who used tobacco, engaged in binge drinking and those who had an older age were more likely to be depressed.

Many experts and academicians point increased societal pressure to achieve success and students not being equipped with necessary life skills as the cause of this. Today’s students face high debt. They also have fewer job prospects after graduation than previous generations. These added concerns can lead to depressive episodes in college students.

Handling transition

George Wango, a counselling psychologist says depression is higher among first-year students who take time to adjust from childhood to adulthood. At this stage, Wango says the young scholars who used to entirely depend on parents and teachers for survival are introduced to a whole new world where they are required to live independent lives. The transition from secondary school to university, he says, should be well planned and that teachers, parents and society should endeavour to prepare them for the next stage of life.

“Parents, especially should talk to their children about university expectations as it is at the initial stages of college life that most of them either shape or destroy their lives,” he said in an interview with The Scholar.

At the same time, Wango revealed that some university students are lazy in the execution of assignments and hardly feel inclined to work. “Many of these children have been brought up by protective parents who provide everything for them in life. When they go to campus, they start missing that which they used to get. This is when they start feeling the heat of life,” he shares.

Besides naivety, Wango blames increase in depression and anxiety among university students to financial crises in the world and the uncertainties thereof, Covid-19 pandemic that resulted in stalling of many activities including destabilising the academic calendar making learners make frequent shifts from online to physical studies.

Further, Wango who is also a lecturer at a local university state that failed relationships among university students sometimes result in physical fights and even death. The students develop low self-esteem when break-ups happen as most of them are unable to cope with such developments.

Wango also says it imperative that children are trained on financial management at a tender age.

“The reason most of them have so many mobile bank loans is because they live beyond their means. They need to know that one can only live according to their sustainable earnings and that going beyond to please ego or be at par with fellow students is non-beneficial,” he notes.

Childhood trauma such as sexual assault  and family feuds are also partly to blame for depression among university students. Wango shares how depression starts with frustrations and disappointments and that concerted efforts are required to bring things to order.

Never suffer alone

He made the statement even as higher learning institutions managers and educationists insist that the new revelations underscore the need for university teaching staff and faculties to put mechanisms in place that can accommodate students’ mental health needs.

Speaking during a 5.7km awareness walk organised by Mt Kenya University, University of Nairobi and Unesco, MKU Vice-Chancellor Prof Deogratius Jaganyi confirmed that many students have been suffering in silence.

Jaganyi maintained that among others, students have been grappling with high uptake of outlawed substances, get pregnant early, which result to dropping out of school among other dangers.

“Student leaders have been dealing with drug and alcohol abuse among other stress-related challenges daily. It is a major concern to us as higher learning institutions. We don’t want our students to suffer alone, we want to tell them that they can get help,” said Prof Jaganyi.

His sentiments were echoed by University of Nairobi Vice Chancellor professor Stephen Kiama who insisted that the government should do everything possible to help students concentrate on studying.

“Drugs, peer pressure, raging hormones, sex and early pregnancies are among factors that have been delaying completion of studies among university students and we hope to walk with them to tell them that there is hope,” he said.

He said that UON will continue to partner with institutions of higher learning to implement Our Rights, Our Lives, Our Future (O3 Plus), a project that is aimed at ensuring that young people in higher and tertiary education institutions in the Eastern and Southern Africa realise positive health, education and gender equality outcomes through sustained reductions in new HIV infections, unintended pregnancy and gender-based violence.

As one of the many forms of remedy to the growing crisis, the scholars’ encouraged reconstitution of university mental health policies, programmes and practices, with the availability of clubs, societies and sporting activities likely to be key in promoting student mental health and wellbeing among students.

The project, according to Unesco Regional Director, Prof Hubert Gijzen, is being implemented in Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe and is hoped to enable young people reach their full educational potential and contribute more effectively to the development of their countries and region as graduates, professionals and young leaders.

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