Recent studies have found that 24% of South African youths surveyed between Grade 8 to Grade 11 had experienced feelings of depression, hopelessness and sadness, while a further 21% had attempted suicide at least once. 

This paints a depressing picture of the condition of youth in the country and calls on key stakeholders to shine a light on the causes, effects and how to find a lasting solution to the struggles facing young people. 

It is reported that Globally, and in South Africa, approximately 20% of teens have a mental health disorder, but the majority are either not detected or untreated. 

The consequences can be catastrophic: common psychiatric disorders in adolescents include anxiety, mood, trauma and stress disorders, which are all associated with an increased suicide risk. 

Psychiatrist at Akeso Clinic Milnerton, Dr Eileen Thomas, said mental illness in adolescents is associated with significant short- and long-term morbidity or illness.

Here is what we need to do:

Preventing common and serious mental health disorders from developing is key. Helping children to develop resilience is important. Parents and caregivers need to be aware of early warning signs and symptoms, and we need to reduce the stigma about mental illness. 

There is an urgent need to increase awareness, and improve screening, detection and treatment of mental illness especially in vulnerable groups.

Treatment is geared to relieving the specific distressing symptoms and improving overall functioning; this may be through education about the illness, talk-therapy or medication use. 

Being in good physical health, eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise is highly recommended.

It is important to be part of a family that gets along most of the time, as are feelings of being loved, trusted, understood, safe and valued.

Parents should get to know you’re the children’s friends and school-teachers and be available, approachable and non-judgmental.

Parents should encourage participation in support-structures (e.g. youth groups) and healthy hobbies.