The 16th of June 2019 is Youth Day in South Africa. It represents an opportunity to look back at the past, consider the present and look forward to the kind of future we want for the youth of the country.
Young people are faced with a myriad of challenges in modern-day society. This impacts on their overall mental health. The World Health Organisation (WHO) (2013) indicates that 10%-20% of all children and adolescents have some type of mental illness, with 50% of these disorders occurring by the age of 14 years and 75% by the age of 20. The WHO (2013) further cites neuropsychiatric conditions as the worldwide leading cause of disability in young persons, and highlights that young people so-situated face challenges with both access to rudimentary basic services such as to education and health care as well as social challenges in terms of discrimination, isolation and stigma. According to StatsSA (2016), there are 20.1 million youth in South Africa. Given the aforesaid proportion of youth with mental health issues, it is important to take cognisance of the need to protect their mental health and wellbeing.
The WHO (2013) defines mental health as follows:
“…a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”
It is SAFMH’s view that everyone can attain a good state of mental health if only a conducive environment is provided for them to do so. As the adage goes, young people are the future, and it is therefore very important that we invest in their mental health. The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) reasons that the fact that many young people are not in a good state of mental health is compounded by the fact that the stressors in young people’s lives in this day and age either cause the onset of poor mental health or worsen the symptoms thereof. Issues such as crime, troubled family life, an unstable political landscape, bullying and pressures in social media increase their vulnerability, leaving them more likely to develop mental illnesses or to worsen the symptoms of existing mental illnesses.
South Africa has a fairly comprehensive legal framework, but its provisions concerning mental health are sparse. Youth and mental health is a very specialised issue which requires a specialised response. A policy like the Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Action Plan 2013-2020 should ideally include specific interventions for the youth, but an assumption seems to be made that young people ought to be treated the same as everyone else, which is not the case. As is evident from the statistics, the onset of mental health conditions is characteristically in a person’s period of youth. On this basis, aspects such as prevention and early intervention are key in ensuring that young people attain that all-important state of good mental health. SAFMH therefore urges those responsible for updating policy to bear the youth in mind.
The youth are very often in a strong position to self-advocate. SAFMH has encountered many young service users who have done an excellent job at mobilising themselves and their communities to stand up for the mental health cause. We urge these individuals, as well as others within communities, to continue engaging in activism- both for themselves and for others in peacefully demanding positive change and better services to be delivered to them.
Mental health has an immense stigma attached to it. This causes exclusion in environments like the family, the workplace and in educational settings. Stigma is generally a product of people being either uninformed or misinformed about a specific topic. SAFMH also thus issues a call to the wider public to become educated about mental health and to break the barriers which prevent youth with mental illness, psychosocial disability or intellectual disability from participating in society.
SAFMH is a non-governmental organisation that protects and upholds the rights of people with mental illness, psychosocial disability and intellectual disability. In 2017 SAFMH created an online resource for young individuals who want to learn more about mental health called My-Mental Health. It is available at www.my-mh-org and provides information in accessible and easy to understand forms such as factsheets, infographics and news items.
The youth are a vital demographic as we step forward into the next chapters or our democracy. They will be the driving force behind our economy, they will elect presidents, will raise children, will build schools and roads and houses. All this will be impossible if they are mired in a poor state of mental health. It’s time to #takeyourplace in promoting the mental health of the youth.
Issued by South African Federation for Mental Health