Rise in Mental Health in Children – Be Part of the Solution

In recent years, South Africa has witnessed a concerning surge in mental health issues, and the consequences are profound for the younger generation.  It poses a threat to their well-being, development and God-given purpose in life. As educators and parents, it is our privilege to raise children, but how do we help them when it seems like the odds are stacked against them.

The Bible instructs us to train up a child in the way he should go; even when he or she is old they will not depart from it. Childhood and adolescence are critical stages of development and growth in the brain. During this stage of great vulnerability, socio-economic and cognitive skills are being formed. These form fundamental building blocks in helping us function as well-rounded people in society.

The worldwide stats are eye-opening. According to the World Health Organization, 10% of adolescents and children experience some form of mental disorder, of which 50% starts by age 14. According to Unicef SA, 73% of youth and children felt they needed mental health support over the past year, but only 38% looked for help. A startling statistic that has been revealed is that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in 15–19 year-old children.

Most children do not get the help they need, either because of poor resources or having little access to them. We as a society, have to wake up to the world this age group are growing up in, and show the compassion they need.

Factors that affect or contribute to the rise in mental health issues are varied:

  • Historical trauma caused by the violent society in which we live affects our children and contributes to mental health issues. Many children suffer from PTSD and anxiety, especially after losing loved ones during the COVID-19 period.
  • Socioeconomic inequalities contribute to mental health stressors especially if they do not have access to quality education with good counselling support systems within those schools, and there are also very limited resources on offer in most schools, if any, to which they can turn to for support and understanding.
  • Children who witness and experience violence, experience long-lasting effects such as anxiety, nervousness, and eating disorders amongst many others, in their attempts to navigate their world.
  • The lack of mental health awareness persists in many communities, and with this comes a stigma surrounding mental health. This often prevents children and/or their caregivers from seeking any form of help.
  • Mental health issues affect a child’s ability to study and concentrate at school which creates educational challenges. A child will not be able to thrive in any academic setting if they are battling with low self esteem and are battling to concentrate. This eventually causes high absenteeism which hinders their ability to ever achieve educational excellence, which perpetuates this cycle of disadvantage.
  • Children suffering from mental health issues often withdraw from their friends and any other social activities, which in turn leads to social isolation. They have difficulty forming and keeping relationships.
  • As children feel more isolated, their chances of turning to substance abuse are high, as they use them as a coping mechanism.
  • If mental health issues are left unattended or not “noticed” it can lead to a higher risk of ongoing mental health issues as an adult. Early support and intervention are crucial.

Now we understand the cause and severity of the problem. Here’s what we could and should be doing as adults to help the younger generation:

  1. Be present and available to listen intently when they raise an issue.
  2. Offer to help in any way and show that you care and WANT to help them.
  3. Know the signs of depression in teenagers, which could be:
    – loss of interest in any hobbies, sports or friends and rather requesting to be alone all the time;
    – trouble concentrating on homework,
    – an appetite increase or decrease, often thinking about death,
    – substance abuse usage, an average of 20% drop in marks overall (which could be a sign of an emotional problem)
  1. Know programs on offer to help teenagers and helplines they can call such as SADAG, church counsellors etc.
  2. Speak and keep speaking identity over your child. The world is trying to tell our children who they are, when in fact, their identity is rooted in who God is and who He says we are: loved and created for a purpose.

Remember, most teenagers experience some form of emotional ups and downs, and possibly depression, as they are growing up and dealing with physical, social and emotional changes. Not all the signs listed mean that your child is depressed. However, we do need to make ourselves aware of the signs and symptoms so that we can be part of the solution in helping the younger generation cope with a post-COVID world of loss and stress and a world which can be more online than real in some senses.

Know that depression is not a weakness – they cannot just “pull themselves together”. They can, however, get better with your understanding, input, and tools like counselling and, if needed, medication when diagnosed by a medical professional. Let’s remove the stigma of mental health issues and be available to be part of the solution!

At King’s, we exist to raise Godly leaders. This includes learner wholeness and wellness. Many of our teachers have completed basic counselling courses and we have a full-time school counsellor on hand to give free counselling and to refer learners to other medical professionals if required.

We have found that once learners are redirected back to understanding their purpose and identity in God, hope and joy are restored. Our purpose is to see all learners restored and living in a way that sees them living out their destiny in Him. Let’s remove the stigma of mental health issues and be available to be part of the solution!

by Adele Greasley