The Challenge

Mental Health as a global issue

The World Economic Forum says: “We can’t make progress without investing in mental health… ”
but, what is mental health ?

Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which:

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

Mental Health in South Africa

Trauma, and its debilitating consequences on mental well-being, is a major construct in addressing the short term need of children, especially in marginalised communities. Children in these communities live on high alert, in a permanent state of fight, flight or freeze. They do not “come from trauma” – they live in trauma. Lack of access to resources and appropriate therapy presents a double negative on these children. It is tragic that those who experience the highest levels of trauma have the lowest levels of support.

  • 42% of South Africa’s children have experienced some form of maltreatment
  • 82% have either experienced or witnessed some form of victimisation
  • 1 in 3 children have experienced physical or sexual abuse
  • 1 in 4 children have experienced emotional abuse
  • 1 in 5 children have experienced neglect
  • There is a 50% split between boys and girls presenting signs of abuse, violence and neglect.

Source: Optimus National Prevalence Study: The Optimus Study on Child Abuse, Violence and Neglect in South Africa 2015

Many children and young adults, from all walks of life, feel helpless and hopeless. Many experience:

  • A lack of adequate adult support. Some learners live with parents who work long hours and they may receive little or no encouragement and support.
  • Bullying and gender-based violence are prevalent in South African schools. This creates anxiety which decreases their ability to concentrate and learn.
  • Hunger and toxic stress caused by violence and abuse in the home or in the community have a negative effects on a child’s development and their ability to learn.

Why focus on the Western Cape ?

The Western Cape is described as “the most dangerous province for children” with four children murdered per week.  According to police minister Bheki Cele: “A very high number of people murdered, are murdered by someone they know.”

In 2019 it was reported that nearly 37 000 children in the Western Cape were removed from their homes, as the homes were deemed dangerous due to the prevalence of traumatic events including negligence, abuse and rape.


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