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Learning Journey on Adolescent Mental Health in South Africa

Posted 20 April 2022 in EMpower News, Grantee Partner News   |   Share

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From April 5–7, EMpower hosted a learning journey on mental health programmes for young people in South Africa. Forty people from 14 organisations from Cape Town and Johannesburg communities attended. The three-day meeting built on research that we conducted earlier this year and featured interactive discussions among grantee partners and other organisations that address adolescent mental health in South Africa. 

While COVID has heightened young people’s traumas and worries, EMpower’s focus on mental health began well before—in 2015. We recognised that many programmes were helping young people cope with everyday violence and poverty-related stresses and that this kind of support was essential. 

While there is a huge gap in care, these local organisations are developing relevant and innovative approaches to meet the critical need for better adolescent mental health. And many of their programmes are designed and delivered by young people themselves. “I am in awe of the leadership and insight of young people who are now delivering programmes,” said Theodoros Chronopoulos, EMpower’s Senior Programme Officer, Africa & Russia. “They bring their own experiences, their knowledge of and commitment to their own communities, their creativity, and their passion for social change. They are standing tall and are now advocating for increased support for young people's mental health and child- and youth-friendly trauma-informed health services.” 

Participants of the convening identified strategies—such as helping young people develop a language and understanding of their emotions and how to regulate them—which have been effective both in the short- and long-term. Many commented on how helpful it was to gather and learn from others that do mental health programming with adolescents and to share ideas and strategies. They were especially pleased to hear from young people themselves. “I came here expecting to hear the voices of NGOs, but what I heard was the voices of children and youth,” said one attendee. 

The participants highlighted that whole and varied programmes are important; one specific intervention is not the solution. And they also underscored the significance of building trust with youth in these programmes to ensure their basic needs—such as safety and nutrition—are met. 

Improving mental health care for young South Africans is vital. We at EMpower will build on the learning journey and advance the ideas and suggestions made by the participants. “Every conversation we had about young people's mental health in South Africa, was also a conversation about race, power, and trauma,” said Theodoros. “Continuing these conversations is not brave, it is necessary. And we are committed to doing so.”

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