When Dr Memory Muturiki took up the directorship of UCT’s Student Wellness Service (SWS) in August 2017, she had to hit the ground running. With exams fast approaching, and a waiting list of over 300 students seeking psychotherapy services, there was little to no time to find her feet.
“Even with all the additional resources we have received, we could never match the number of clinical psychologists, for example, to the number of students that actually require the service,” she begins.
The team had to come up with operational ways to widen access for more students, and have them assessed for risk timeously. So, they developed an assessment system, much like the triage system employed in the public healthcare sector.
Within three months, the waiting list was under control. This approach has now been incorporated into the SWS operations model, which is currently under review.
The hope, Memory explains, is that a more accessible and responsive service will encourage students to seek assistance earlier, before they develop complex presentations of mental health problems.
Moreover, the team hopes to disseminate strategies to help students to manage their own mental health and wellness through various engagements and planned health promotion campaigns.
A medical heavyweight
Memory has roughly 14 years of experience as both a clinician and manager in the public, NGO and private healthcare sectors, bringing a wealth of knowledge in healthcare systems and policies with her to SWS.
She has worked for the International AIDS Society, the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, the LoveLife Trust (Youth Friendly Clinical Services) and collaborated with the National Department of Health, among others.
She is armed with a Bachelor of Science, a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery, a diploma in HIV management, advanced health management, and is also a certified independent medical examiner.
She describes herself as a forward-thinker, an innovator and a strategist. She was involved in a number of health interventions at a national level, including the Integrated School Health Policy, the Adolescent and Youth Health Policy and the Paediatric and Adolescent HIV Treatment Advisory.
Such projects speak to her core interest: advocating for the holistic wellness of young people.
This forms the basis of her PhD research in public health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and is one of the reasons she took up the post at UCT.
Promoting holistic wellness
Memory’s interest in the holistic wellness of young people is key to the innovations she plans to drive through SWS. Her models also aim to catch mental health and well-being issues as early as possible.
“We do have similar challenges to most of the academic institutions around the country,” she explains. Students present to SWS with depression, anxiety, stress and other mental health difficulties. These stem from various factors, with academic difficulties, maladaptation and substance abuse being some of the more common stressors.
“There is an exponential rise in mental health challenges, and the trend is that the clinical systems within our unit will have to advance to match the demand, and open up access.”
As part of her vision to widen access for students and to broaden the offerings of SWS, Memory and the SWS team have scheduled a health promotion campaign called The Wellness Drive.
The drive, which will take place in Memorial Hall between 5 and 9 March, will promote general health and well-being, mental health awareness, HIV counselling and testing, as well as providing information on the student support services available at SWS.
In teaching students how to look after their health and well-being, holistically, Memory and the team hope to reduce the number of students requiring therapeutic services, and to encourage those who need support to seek help early.
“Talk to someone, and do it as quickly as possible, even if you don’t think it is serious,” she advises.
“We have the UCT Student Careline [0800 24 25 26] available 24/7. So even if you must speak to someone and it is in the middle of the night, you can simply dial the number and it is toll-free from a Telkom landline. Or you can send a text message [to 31393] and a counsellor will call you back.”
She reminds the campus community of the Department of Student Affairs (DSA) Crisis Intervention Service, popularly known as the night nurse service, which is available to help students in residences who may face a mental health crisis after hours. This can be accessed by contacting Campus Protection Services (CPS).
The main SWS clinic is located in the Ivan Toms Building, 28 Rhodes Avenue, Mowbray. They are available on 021 650 1017/20.
A limited walk-in (no appointment required) nurse service is available at the upper campus clinic in the Steve Biko Students’ Union Building.
The SADAG UCT Student Careline can be accessed on 0800 24 25 26, free from a Telkom line, or SMS 31393 for a callback.
Campus Protection Services are available on 021 650 2222/3.
Read the protocol for psychiatric emergencies in residences or on campus…
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