More than 55 per cent of young people are most anxious due to the impact of COVID-19 on levels of violence and poverty, according to a new UNICEF South Africa U-Report survey, released on Youth Day.
Illness, death among family members and disrupted education follow as having the biggest impact on mental wellbeing but young people are still reluctant to reach out for support, with 64 per cent of respondents stating that they did not seek help. Fear of talking about their mental health issues to others and lack of information were noted as the key reasons for not getting help.
Young people are however stepping up to care for each other, 78 per cent said that they did or would help to try and improve their peer’s mental wellbeing.
“The broad ranging impact of COVID-19 on the mental wellbeing and future opportunities for young people has been severe,” said Christine Muhigana, UNICEF Representative in South Africa. “But we are also seeing young people who are determined to pull together and to use their resolve, creativity and energy to build a safer, fairer and better future,” added Muhigana.
The survey was conducted using UNICEF South Africa’s free U-Report SMS platform and received just over 6,000 responses, with more than 75 per cent of those from young people aged 15 to 24-years.
South Africa’s Youth Day also marks the International Day of the African Child that commemorates the fateful events of 16 June 1976, when young men and women in Soweto and other parts of the country rose up against the iniquity of Bantu Education.
A youth-produced ‘Reimagine our Future Declaration’, released today, and drafted by young people across the country provides a vision of ‘a future that is conducive and favourable for young people to grow and prosper, freely and with dignity.’
The declaration is a product of and a reminder of the power and agency of South Africa’s young people and covers economic, environmental, and social considerations, including specific recommendations.
UNICEF and partners are working to continue to improve mental health support and access to opportunities for young people in South Africa. This includes through:
- Technical and financial support to ChildLine SA for children and those affected by mental health issues.
- Parenting programmes that equip caregivers with the skills needed to better support the holistic wellbeing of their children.
- Psychosocial support and training for educators, who in-turn can improve support for learners, including referrals to more specialized care.
- Access to opportunities through the Generation Unlimited initiative for young people to acquire work mentorships, digital skills, and entrepreneurship opportunities.
In support of children and young people, UNICEF South Africa calls for:
- Strengthened child rights governance systems that embrace a family-centered approach.
- Increased investment in mental health and psychosocial support services, integrated within health and nutrition, education, and child protection systems, including community services and structures.
- Improved collaboration between partners in the private sector, academia, government, and civil society to reduce the digital divide and to provide access to the 21st Century skills and opportunities that young people need to thrive in life.