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Compiled by Asanda Mbayimbayi

These are the mental health challenges SA’s youth are facing

Unique challenges that impact the well-being of the young population are influenced by the country's socio-economic circumstances.

Similar to young people worldwide, South African youth face significant mental health challenges due to shared experiences like the climate crisis, economic uncertainty, geopolitical instability, and pressures from social media threats.

However, the country’s socio-economic context also gives rise to distinct issues that uniquely affect the well-being of its young population.

In a recent survey conducted by SACAP (The South African College of Applied Psychology), more than 60% of the youth expressed worries about depression (61%) and anxiety (65%).

The online survey gathered responses from 850 internet-connected participants aged between 17 and 20 years, comprising recent school leavers or current students in grades 11 and 12.

Youth mental health
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Mental health impacts on youth

Jogini Packery, the Head of SACAP’s Johannesburg campus, says that research indicates the primary mental health challenges confronted by youth worldwide are anxiety, depression, substance abuse, eating disorders, self-harm, and suicidal behaviours.

“There’s a distinctly South African context to the challenges faced by the youth in South Africa. These impacts are related to high crime, the prevalence of domestic violence and substance abuse, the socio-economic crisis, lack of government funding towards early mental health intervention, and educational challenges in South Africa.

“So, we see post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse and risky behaviours, depression and anxiety, suicide and self-harm, and sexual and reproductive health issues on the rise. I believe that systemic decay is the leading cause of our youth facing the psychological stressors that they do, and the lack of effective coping strategies creates barriers to their wellness.

“Despite the increasing need for youth mental health focus, early intervention is simply not a priority of community funding and campaigns,” explained Packery.

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Mental health struggles
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Impact of technology and social media

Genevieve Burrow, the Counselling Centre Coordinator of The Youth Hub at Groote Schuur Hospital Adolescent Centre of Excellence, says that The Youth Hub is among the limited affordable counseling options accessible to young South Africans.

“The rapid development of technology and increased exposure and accessibility to social media creates difficulties for Gen Z, as these elements may affect their emotional wellbeing and mental health.

Stress and anxiety may develop because of the increase in cyberbullying and online harassment. Additionally, the need for approval, acceptance, validation, and instant gratification on social media further affects mental health,” said Burrow.

Increased awareness and openness

According to the Frame Your Future survey, 61% of South African youth expressed a strong willingness to undergo mental health check-ups every six months if these services were provided free of charge.

Genevieve Burrow says in recent times, there has been an increase in comprehension and consciousness regarding matters concerning mental health.

“This has resulted in more honest discussions about mental health and less stigma associated with seeking help.

“Compared to earlier generations, young people today may be more likely to recognise and seek help for mental health issues.

“Due to this increased awareness, it may appear to some as if Gen Z is less resilient or has fewer effective coping mechanisms when in fact, they may just be more forthcoming about their emotional and mental health difficulties,” says Burrow.

SA Youth's mental health struggles
Picture: iStock

Barriers to mental health services in South Africa:

  1. Lack of government funding and resources for increased mental health services.
  2. Lack of integration of mental health into primary health care to promote early detection, prompt intervention, and increased access to mental health assistance.
  3. Widespread scarcity of mental health practitioners.
  4. Slow uptake of telehealth solutions providing mental health services.
  5. Lack of early intervention and prevention programmes to foster mental health awareness, educate children about mental health in the classroom, combat stigma, and provide early intervention services for vulnerable groups.
  6. Lack of community-based support services to give people with mental health disorders ongoing support and treatment choices.
  7. Addressing equity so that South Africans regardless of financial status, colour, ethnicity, or geographic location, have access to and can afford mental health treatments.
  8. Awareness-building to keep lessening the stigma associated with seeking mental health care so that people can do so without being judged or subjected to prejudice.

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