File photo: Research shows that as many as 12 percent of university students experience severe symptoms of depression.

Cape Town - Mental illness among students has psychologists worried as several students have committed suicide on campuses across the country recently.

On Saturday a student at the Mowbray campus of the Cape Peninsula University of Technology hanged himself. In the same week a third-year BCom student from UCT was found dead in her room at the Forest Hill residence, which brought to three the number of students who have committed suicide so far this year at the university.

Earlier this month a 19-year-old Wits student from Braamfontein in Johannesburg, who suffered from depression, committed suicide by jumping off the sixth floor of a building.

Doctor Richard Vergunst, a post-doctoral researcher in the Department of Psychology at the University of Stellenbosch, said stress may be the root cause.

“You have to remember that stress could exacerbate and can cause mental illness. It’s a huge concern at our universities,” Vergunst said. He added that the issue needed to be looked at from a broader perspective.

Research shows that as many as 12 percent of university students experience severe symptoms of depression.

“You can always see a spike when we approach the end of the year, when students are stressed because of examinations and results. And also the beginning of the year because it’s a new environment for students and they struggle to find their feet,” Vergunst said.

He said students needed more support from universities: “They need to make a safer environment where students do not feel discriminated against,” he said.

Jason Bantjes, of Stellenbosch University’s psychology department, said that although there was no evidence, protest action on campuses across the country could also be the cause of students’ stress.

“It makes sense that it could cause stress, in particular for vulnerable students,” Bantjes said. He said students did not make use of the services universities offered.

Cape Argus