Child mental health crisis in South Africa

It estimated that mental disorders accounted for 13% of the global burden of disease among people aged 10-19 Photo: Supplied


The 16th issue of the SA Child Gauge – an annual publication of the Children‘s Institute at the University of Cape Town – revealed that the majority of young people with mental disorders in the country are still untreated and that only one child in 10 with a diagnosable and treatable mental health problem is able to access any type of care.

According to lawyer Bongani Majola, chairperson of South Africa’s Human Rights Commission, due to historical neglect and underinvestment in mental health, there are gaps in prevention and care for children and adolescents in South Africa.

Majola was among the speakers at the launch of this year’s SA Child Gauge at the University of Cape Town. The publication focused on child and adolescent mental health and how early experiences of adversity impact the course of a young person’s life and future generations, at great cost to individuals and society. society. He estimated that mental disorders account for 13% of the global burden of ill health among people aged 10 to 19.

Majola said gaps in prevention and care often lead to serious human rights violations that rob young people not only of their quality of life, but often of life itself.

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A recent publication revealed that depression-triggered suicide was the fourth leading cause of death among young people aged 15-19.

Majola said the Covid-19 pandemic has intensified the pressures felt by children and adolescents. As a result, the sanity and well-being of an entire generation has been compromised.

He said

Children and teens feel scared, angry, and anxious because their routines, studies, hobbies, and family finances have been disrupted. Other notable factors that contribute to the mental wellbeing of children in South Africa are high levels of racial inequality, gender inequality, poverty and malnutrition, disability, gender-based violence in the home, as well as violence against children.

Professor Linda Richter of Wits University’s Center for Excellence in Human Development said children and adolescents affected by mental health conditions were often unable to talk about their feelings or seek the help they needed .

“One key thing to remember is that most children and adolescents live their lives well, despite what can sometimes feel like very difficult challenges. Most children have episodes of anxiety at some point in their lives. In a country plagued by poverty, inequality, social exclusion and violence, our greatest responsibility is to our children and adolescents. We need to identify those who are struggling early on and try to address those challenges. »

According to the publication, many children in South Africa were failing to thrive due to widespread violence, discrimination and poverty.

“Other [mental conditions] requiring attention include psychotic disorders, autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, learning disabilities, and behavioral disorders.

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There is also a high burden of substance use disorders in South Africa: between 20% and 49% of people admitted to drug treatment centers in the first six months of 2020 were between the ages of 10 and 19,” indicates the post.

He estimated that 90% of children in the country had no access to mental health care.

This unmet need was associated with lower academic achievement and risky behaviors such as substance abuse and criminal activity, which then affected skill development, preparation for adult life roles, social and economic independence. and the ability to contribute to the economic security of families.

“In South Africa, widespread poverty and violence continue to undermine the potential of children, despite our constitutional promise to ‘improve the quality of life’ and ‘unleash the potential of all citizens’. Two-thirds of South African children (63%) live below the upper poverty line.

According to the publication:

Almost one in two children (42%) have experienced violence, including physical abuse (35%) and sexual abuse (35%), and although the suburbs offer some protection, violence in many neighborhoods is pervasive, with 99% of children in Soweto having experienced or witnessed violence at home, school and in the community

SA Child Gauge said that in order to prevent mental health disorders in children, it was necessary to prevent violence and promote inclusion. In addition, children needed to be involved as key stakeholders and active citizens to ensure that their ideas resulted in child and youth friendly policies and programs.

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