Master and PhD students are extremely important for universities and the economy of South Africa (SA). However, student drop-out rates in SA belong to the highest globally. Research on mental health problems has shown that almost half of all PhD students suffer from depression. Yet little is known about what contributes to postgraduate student’s positive mental health.
We conducted two focus-groups and 25 in-depth interviews with Master and PhD students, as well as postgraduate supervisors at the three campuses of one of the largest SA Universities.
We found that students face academic, financial, personal and practical challenges, as well as social and work demands, leading to a diminished well-being. To deal with those challenges, they made use of study resources, such as the librarian. An important factor for their well-being were personal resources, such as grit, a positive attitude, resilience, love of learning and being able to ask for support from their environment. Supervisors played a central role in student flourishing or languishing.
According to the students, they need supporting supervisors, peer support and they are in need interventions to support their well-being. To conclude, universities can and should play a role in creating an environment that fosters flourishing students.