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UP launches counseling chatbot to provide students with mental health care

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By UKTN reporter Apr 1, 2021

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The University of Pretoria (UP) has launched a Student Counseling Unit chatbot aimed at helping students provide primary mental health care to students to complement traditional individual counseling services.

The Student Counseling Unit-Bot (SCU-B) initiative is the first of its kind.

The university said the initiative will allow students to create personalized toolkits containing self-help content while pursuing their academic goals. The lockdown created a stressful environment for many, including the students.

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Dr Linda Blokland, acting department head of the student counseling unit, said initial development revolved around three main branches: mood, stress and lifestyle.

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“Students can access the chatbot through the student portal on their electronic devices and register on the bot using their student credentials. They can also use the chatbot anonymously. In all cases, their use will be confidential and their identity will always be protected. If they choose to use their student credentials, they can save material to a toolkit and come back at any time to review what they have saved, ”said Blokland.

According to Dr Blokland, the chatbot uses artificial intelligence to grow and develop. She added that the SCU-B initiative will be broadened and become more responsive as it is used.

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“The team will regularly add branches and content in consultation with other units of the Department of Student Affairs and other departments of the University.”

The university said that not only did the initiative expand the individual counseling process, but it also gave professional psychologists on the unit more time to focus on developing other resources of a preventive nature, such as counseling. podcasts, video material and online workshops.

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Blokland said there was a need for initiatives like SCU-B. “SCU-B can use interventions to promote personal strengths and resilience rather than just focusing on mental illness. The current generation of students are particularly drawn to electronic information and the chatbot is the ideal platform for this.

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The chatbot was created with the help of the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation

Dr Thashlin Govender, program director at Michael & Susan Dell, said students need support in a variety of areas to be successful in college.

“The pandemic has not only resulted in an increased need for student support services, but also a need for students to be able to access useful tools in a private and virtual setting. This new virtual tool will allow more students to prioritize their well-being throughout their academic journey, ”said Govender.

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