The Challenge

Imagine trying to learn the 7-times-table or read a book while riding on a high speed rollercoaster.  This is what life feels like for many of our children.  They wake up troubled by the struggles they face, they then have to make their way to school and try to concentrate in the classroom.  At night they go to bed feeling overwhelmed, and they have nowhere to turn.

Adverse childhood experiences (such as poverty, loss, neglect or exposure to violence and abuse) have a direct impact on mental health and our sense of well-being.  These young people live on high alert, in a permanent state of fight, flight or freeze.  The lack of access to resources and support presents a double negative.

The Context

Many young people are living in a state of fight, flight or freeze due to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), including loss, neglect, exposure to abuse, violence or poverty. If this trauma is not addressed, there is a risk of these young people becoming trapped in a downward spiral where they begin to engage in high-risk activities, self-harm, develop a motivational deficit, drop out of school or, tragically, repeat the patterns where the victim becomes the perpetrator.

In 2022, the Children’s Institute published the South African Child Gauge which focused specifically on children’s mental health. The report highlighted that South African children are exposed to extraordinarily high levels of adversity, which increases their risk of developing mental health challenges.

“A whopping two-thirds of children (63%) in South Africa live below the upper-bound poverty line. Nearly one in two children (42%) have experienced violence, including physical violence (35%) and sexual abuse (35%). In some parts of the country, almost all children have either witnessed or experienced violence in their homes, schools and/or communities. So, it’s not surprising that more than one in 10 children in South Africa have a diagnosable and treatable mental health disorder. This includes depression; anxiety; post-traumatic stress disorder; conduct, learning and substance-use disorders.  Half of all adult mental [health] disorders begin before the age of 14. So, we need to intervene early – in childhood and adolescence.”

While the nation focuses on making amends for poor literacy and numeric literacy (numeracy), there is a case to be made that emotional literacy is as important if not more important.  Educators use the phrase “Maslow before Bloom”, implying that social and emotional needs need to be addressed before learning can occur.

As Professor Mark Tomlinson (University of Stellenbosch) said in a recent Daily Maverick article: “We have lost touch with the role that the deeply human needs of belonging, social connectedness, gratitude, kindness and hope play in our wellbeing, and how they are likely to be the only way out of our current moment of psychic discontent.”

The Opportunity

When you are offered a safe space to talk to a supportive adult, who really listens, you can find hope, resolve trauma, escape the downward spiral and begin a journey to a place of well-being where you can thrive.

On the one hand – children and young people in schools are traumatised and in need of a safe space and safe person to confide in and on the other hand  school leavers, from these same communities, are unemployed.  There is an opportunity to bring these two groups together (supported by our team of psychologists and social workers) to provide a holistic, community-based mental health service. 

And that is exactly what we do.  We train up community members in Mental Health First Aid and employ them to work alongside our therapists.  Our therapists (we call them Care Practitioners) have a tertiary qualification and our Care Facilitators have lived experience – a powerful combination.

The Outcome

Mental health is defined as a state of wellbeing in which every individual

    • realizes their own potential,
    • can cope with the normal stresses of life,
    • can work productively and fruitfully,
    • and is able to make a contribution to their community.

Even the World Economic Forum agrees: “We can’t make progress without investing in mental health… ”