There is a silent pandemic that needs an intervention – that of deteriorating mental health among our young people after the hardship and stress caused by the pandemic, as well as the increasing social pressures in the digital age.
Eating Healthy, exercising regularly, getting enough sleep and avoiding harmful substances are some of the interventions young people can proactively enact in the interest of their mental health. This emerged from the Mental Health and Lifestyle Imbizo hosted in Kwazulu Natal by ACTIVATE! Change Drivers, as part of its ongoing 10th year anniversary celebrations.
At the heart of the Imbizo was a curated a programme that was designed to educate, inspire, empower, and provide long-term solutions to communities on the awareness and interventions to mental health conditions experienced by youth in the community. The Imbizo focused on the development of generational interventions to preserve the future of our younger generation and their well-being. The expertise of different mental health community organisation experts, as well as leaders from the provincial government and young civic activists, was drawn on.
According to Stats SA, nine percent of teenage deaths are due to suicide. It is believed that after the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic and pressures of the digital era, these numbers are increasing. It was shared in the safe space of the Imbizo that many people either know of, or have themselves experienced increasing panic attacks and anxiety disorder.
Unpacking this silent pandemic, was a panel made up of Ayabulela Nyawose from Youth Interactive, Zibuyile Mkhwanazi from SAMRC, Khulani Chiliza (KC) from Abantu Mental Health Foundation, Siphesihle Bhengu from SA Youth, Tebogo Suping from ACTIVATE! Change Drivers, and Activator, Shakes Baleni, chaired the conversation.
The consensus view, shared by the panellists, was that, “Maintaining good health is the key to success and bringing positivity in life, which in return leads to longevity’’. Chiliza explained that mental health and a healthy lifestyle are equally important aspects of overall health and wellness, as robust mental health includes your psychological and emotional well-being. This affects the way we feel, think and behave; as well as how we handle stress and challenging decisions as regards our lifestyle choices.
It was noted that young people, who form the majority of unemployed citizens, often attributed their unemployment to their mental state. SA Youth’s Bhengu, said that assisting young people in finding job opportunities would go a long way to alleviating their stress. SA Youth is a national network where young people can access learning and earning opportunities.
Young people in the audience came up with ideas on how to start a healthy lifestyle and have good mental health. For example, you can start a healthy lifestyle by drinking water, getting enough sleep, exercise, eat more fruit and vegetables, cut down processed food, and avoid negative people in your life. If this fails and you find yourself dealing with ongoing feelings of sadness, anxiety or depression, there are organisations like SADAG available to assist those who cannot afford the costs of private therapy.
During the session, Mkhwanazi also led breathing exercises and shared meditation tips with the youth present; and guided everyone at the Imbizo in exercises to reduce stress.
Written by Ntombi Mtolo, Youth Activator, ACTIVATE! Change Drivers