The 16th of June 2018 is Youth Day. This is a commemorative occasion offering the opportunity to reflect on the past, examine the present and contemplate the future of young people in this country. Good mental health is one of the biggest determinants of overall good wellbeing among all people. Maintaining good mental health is especially important during a person’s formative years, when mental health difficulties can arise.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) 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 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 healthcare as well as social challenges in terms of discrimination, isolation and stigma.
Ahead of World Mental Health Day in October 2018, the World Federation for Mental Health (WHMH) has announced its theme for the occasion to be “Youth and Mental Health in a Changing World.” Although October is still some months away, SAFMH is placing emphasis on the fact that this should not just be a one-off event but rather a lasting theme that ought to resonate within activities throughout the year.
The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) recognises the importance of this theme and wishes to highlight on the 16th of June how youth are presently situated- what the positive and negative aspects are of living in a modern day society and what resources are available to young people now that perhaps were absent before. In an age of innovation, the possibilities are endless. While indisputably a positive development overall, there exist dangers and risks for the youth that could serve to hinder, rather than aid their growth and development.
First of all, it is necessary to note that young people have access to a spectrum of sources of information that were not there before. There is an immense wealth of material on the internet about how youth can achieve good mental health and mental wellbeing. Youth now have a greater capacity to become informed about their mental illness or intellectual disability or those of their loved ones.
While this is undeniably positive, there is a negative flipside- accessing such information can lead, for example, to self-diagnosis, a dangerous phenomenon. According to Pillay, writing for Psychology Today, self-diagnosis can lead to a person trying to treat a mental health issue themselves incorrectly, which can ultimately have many negative ramifications. They may miss a concealed disorder they simply lack the expertise to diagnose, or may mistake a physical issue for a mental health issue. This can lead to a person failing to seek proper treatment.
With the continuous flow of information has come a flow of communication. It is possible to make contact with people all over the world at the click of a button. This means that there is a network of support available to young people that never previously existed. This has the effect that if a young person feels alone, or lost, or unsure of which path to take, there are structures and communities upon which they can call for guidance. Unfortunately, for all the helping hands extended online are others which seek to cause harm. This is known as cyberbullying. According to a global online study conducted by YouGov (2015), it was found that 24% of teens in South Africa has fallen victim to cyberbullying, with South Africa having the 4th highest rate of the 11 countries surveyed. A broad spectrum of sources link cyberbullying to depression, self-harm and suicide among young people.
SAFMH is a non-governmental organisation seeking to preserve and protect the rights of people with mental illness, psychosocial disability and intellectual disability. Through ongoing advocacy and awareness activities, one of our initiatives has been to create an online resource for the youth, providing them with information on mental health.
During 2017, SAFMH created a website which provides comprehensive information on various issues pertaining to young people and mental health and wellbeing. It is user-friendly and comprehensive and also provides useful resources for accessing support. It is our hope that the website is of use to the youth in helping them to better understand mental health issues and how to deal with them. The address for the website is: https://my-mh.org/
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. Let Youth Day 2018 be an opportunity to take things forward; a chance to start taking care of our country’s young people’s mental wellness in a concerted fashion. #takeyourplace
Issued by The South African Federation for Mental Health