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.  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.  The lack of access to resources and support presents a double negative.

The Context

“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.”  2022 UCT South African Child Gauge

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 (Stellenbosch University) 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 learners are offered a safe space to talk to a supportive adult, who really listens, they have the opportunity to find hope, resolve trauma, escape the downward spiral and begin a journey to a place of well-being where they can thrive.

On the one hand children and adolescents in schools 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, registered counsellors 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 (Care Facilitators) and employ them to work alongside our Care Practitioners, freeing them up to focus on case load.  Our 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.

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

Our work falls under the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 3 to “ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages.” The SDG INDICATOR 3.4.2 is the suicide mortality rate, instead we use the indicator: Subjective well-being. Subjective wellbeing (using WHO5 index) is a self-evaluation of life where respondents are asked to evaluate where they feel they lie on a particular scale.

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