Support for staff health and wellness

01 April 2020 | From Kgethi

Dear colleagues

The national lockdown, which was implemented to help limit the spread of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), is unquestionably a necessary measure and may save many lives.

As essential as it is to “flatten the curve” in South Africa, social distancing and working from home introduce complexities, stresses and anxieties that will affect University of Cape Town (UCT) staff in many ways.

While university operations are continuing virtually and online wherever possible, the UCT executive wants to ensure that all staff remain healthy, both physically and mentally. The UCT Human Resources department has been working to further increase the availability of, and access to, counselling services to support the mental health of our staff through this period of lockdown and remote working.

Supporting staff through line management

UCT is a close community, but one that is currently working and living under very stressful conditions as a result of COVID-19. As a community, we need to watch out for one another, and I particularly want to ask line managers and supervisors to be alert to the unique needs of their staff during this time. I want to remind you that some of our colleagues are working from home in circumstances that are very different from the workplace.

The importance of regular personal engagement with colleagues who are working remotely cannot be over-emphasised. Although some people think that isolation and loneliness are minor issues, they can become major issues if they are not dealt with effectively. I want to encourage all line managers to engage with your staff members by making use of the available online tools, such as Whatsapp or Skype, or calling on the phone on a regular basis, to ensure not only business continuity but also personal contact and monitoring of staff wellbeing.

UCT Human Resources (HR) offers many forms of support, including the coordination of services provided by the Independent Counselling and Advisory Services (ICAS) and South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) as described below. I urge you to read through the full list of counselling services available through UCT HR’s Health and Wellness web page.

Increased ICAS services

During this unprecedented time, we have asked ICAS to increase their capacity for managing the immediate needs of our staff members. While ICAS on-site counselling is suspended for now, the same counsellors are now available to conduct telephonic counselling. You can access these services by:

  • Calling toll-free for counselling over the phone: 080 111 3945
  • Sending a please-call-me to: *134*905#
  • Emailing

ICAS recently launched a new online app, ICAS On-the-Go, which allows you to chat live with an ICAS counsellor. The app gives you and your family access to a 24/7/365 Employee Wellness Programme and information to address some of your health and wellness needs.

Connect to ICAS On-the-Go. The code for UCT staff is UNI003.

SADAG services

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) is Africa’s largest mental health support and advocacy group, and its services are available to UCT staff members. SADAG offers free telephonic counselling for depression, anxiety and other mental health disorders.

SADAG offers excellent podcasts that provide practical tips to cope in a time of anxiety.

Should you require their counselling services, please contact SADAG by:

  • calling 0800 171 171 (toll-free from a Telkom line 24 hours a day)
  • sending an SMS to 31393 to request a call back
  • emailing for a counsellor to call you back
  • visiting the SADAG website for very useful information about how to cope with the daily stresses of working during the national lockdown
  • visiting the SADAG Facebook page to access the Daily Expert Q&A from 13:00 to 14:00

One suggestion from SADAG is to reduce the time that staff and their families spend watching or listening to media coverage. SADAG suggests only following reliable resources such as:

Medical aid support


Staff in pay classes 2 to 6 are covered by Kaelo , which is promoting health and wellness through the Kaelo Cares page. Although the onsite UCT clinic is closed during lockdown, Kaelo is providing services in direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, including free flu vaccinations for members with registered chronic conditions until 30 June 2020 (subject to availability and as per policy), and covering the cost of the pathology test (up to a maximum of R1 400) for confirmed positive COVID-19 cases. To access these services, Kaelo members can phone their Kaelo primary healthcare network doctors.

Discovery Health

Staff in pay classes 7 and above as well as academic staff who are Discovery Health members can access that medical aid provider’s services.

  • Visit the website on “Discovery’s support for you during the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown”
  • Find out about Discovery’s Vitality at Home service to help you stay healthy and get rewarded at home during this difficult period.
  • Join the #JEFFtogether exercise community on Facebook, which is offering free morning workouts for adults and afternoon workouts for children online in partnership with Discovery Vitality. Maintaining physical wellness is essential to ensuring mental wellness.

Please try to make it part of your daily routine to reach out to your colleagues, your friends and your family. A sense of connection and a feeling of community are essential to create the culture of hope and healing that we so desperately need at the moment.

I want to thank you all for pulling together during this uncertain time in our country. Your willingness to work through the complexities we have been presented with will stand this university in good stead in the long term.


Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng

Updates will be posted on UCT’s Coronavirus Disease 2019 feature page on the UCT News website.

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