DURBAN – THE UN Children’s Fund says about 65% of young people stated that they had a mental health issue but did not seek help, according to the findings from its Unicef South Africa U-Report poll.
Unicef globally estimates that 13% of adolescents aged between 10 and 19 live with a diagnosed mental disorder.
The Unicef SA U-Report poll received 5 500 responses, with 75% of those from young people aged up to 24 years. U-Report is a SMS platform to encourage youth participation and to help young people to have a voice on issues that matter to them and to access information, tools and services to influence positive social change.
It said more than a quarter of respondents didn’t think their mental health problem was serious enough to seek support, while 20% did not know where to get help and 18% were afraid of what people would think.
It said increased poverty and a lack of hope for the future were the top reasons given for children and young people’s anxiety, showing a shift from violence as the lead reason in a similar poll conducted six months ago.
The U-Report findings were released at the start of October which is Mental Health Awareness Month in South Africa and alongside the launch of the #OnMyMind campaign and Unicef’s global flagship report, The State of the World’s Children 2021: On My Mind: promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health.
Christine Muhigana, Unicef SA representative, said: “Mental health impacts on every part of a child’s life, including their physical health, which is why it’s so important that we provide the support they need now.
“There is still a stigma around mental health issues that can prevent young people from seeking help.”
The #OnMyMind campaign aims to help break the stigma about mental health, while the global Unicef report warns that children and young people could feel the impact of Covid-19 on their mental health and well-being for many years to come.
The U-Report poll and global report also show that many mental health issues existed before Covid-19. It said more than half of U-Report respondents stated that they had mental health-related issues before Covid-19.
Muhigana said when children were exposed to violence, such as the recent unrest in KZN, it had a negative impact on their immediate and longer-term mental health.
“The impact of the unrest directly affected children and young people, including their education, with 144 schools vandalised and looted in KZN alone.
“We and our partners are working to prioritise the health, well-being and safety of children, youth and teachers, recognising the mental and psychosocial toll of the unrest (and Covid-19) on the entire education system.”