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Safety net for depressed #FeesMustFall activists

Some student activists have been left suffering from depression following the #FeesMustFall protests that erupted on campuses around the country in 2015 – but one student is hoping to help activists deal with their trauma.

Tshepang Mahlatsi (22), a member of the University of Free State’s Tswelopele Residence, said he was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder following the #FeesMustFall protests.

“I witnessed security officials kicking the doors down, storming into our rooms to arrest students. Many called me to help but I was helpless,” he recalled.  

Mahlatsi, a third-year law student, founded Next Chapter to address mental health issues among students. He said students who came to universities from rural villages were not well informed about mental illnesses and some still believed that that psychological help was reserved for rich and white students only.

Facing difficulties

“Next Chapter is a student support group creating awareness around mental health and also encouraging students to seek professional help when facing difficulties,” he said. The organisation offered peer support therapy. Mahlatsi expressed gratitude to clinical psychologist and senior lecturer Dr Ancel George, who assists the organisation with their projects.

The organisation is also reaching out to activists who were traumatised as a result of their involvement in the #FeesMustFall movement – students who were assaulted by security officials and spent a few nights in police holding cells before appearing before appearing in court in shackles.

Mahlatsi said students’ horrific experiences and increased workload because of the protests resulted in some activists dropping out of university.

Mahlatsi also dropped out, but, with support, is dealing with his trauma. In addition to launching Next Chapter, he is also the chairperson of the university’s Students for Law and Social Justice organisation.

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