Teen Mental Health Champions Speak…….
Allen Glen High School students; Nsangu Phiri, Ashley Chiutare, Timothy Ewurum, Msuri Manyike, Xavien Myles, Philisizwe Kuzwayo, Zinhle and front is Khanyisa Rosemary Mabasa.
Teenagers in South Africa are struggling everyday with mental health issues. 20% of teenagers globally and in South Africa are faced with a mental health problem. On the 9th of June 2018, The Mercury reported that many high school students in South Africa experience depression, sadness and hopelessness and some had attempted to commit suicide at least once. Many of these issues are not being identified and addressed and as a result become severe illness that can be life-threatening.
October was declared the Mental Health Awareness month, by the South African Government with the main aim of reducing stigma and discrimination through mental health awareness and education. Within this month is the World Mental Health day on the 10th. The teenage years are not easy due to changes and experiences that are challenging, such as physical appearance, emotional, intellectual and social issues, pressure and general life experiences. Teenagers are struggling to deal with these issues, and we must admit that there is a crisis. Speaking up is hard. Young people need a voice, they need to be heard and need help.
A group of teenagers, “Teen Mental Health Champions” from Allen Glen High School in Allen’s Nek, Roodepoort; Philisizwe Kuzwayo, Khanyisa Rosemary Mabasa, Msuri Manyike, Nsangu Phiri, Xavien Myles, Ashley Chiutare, Zinhle Silundika, Timothy Ewurum made a decision to step up and reach out to other young people through their participation in the B.R.E.A.T.H.E campaign a mental health awareness facilitated by Auxilium Health. They want to help other young people realise their problems and in the process help to bring transformation and remove stigma. As young people they decided to become the spokes persons for their peers and provide healing and comfort and the ability to speak freely about mental health issues to all young people in South Africa and the world by being part of this campaign.
The campaign is based on a poem on mental health called “Movie Theatres” written and presented by one of the Teen Mental Health Champions, Khanyisile Rosemary Mabasa. Rosemary narrates her poem while the others choreograph to it with the help of Caitlin Swanepoel of CDF Worx. The campaign is in video and audio format, filmed by BlankPage Entertainment. This will be running on social media as these are the platforms that most young people are found.
The mental health champions had this to say about mental health issues:
Philisizwe says that mental illness is one of the many factors that people fear, the exposure to something unfamiliar with no understanding and knowledge of what is happening. She further states that mental health is a delicate and complex issue. Young people need to know how to deal with issues before they happen. She states that mental health education should be the place to start before learning about TB and HIV at school. She further said that the education department should include this in Life Orientation because once we have learnt how to control our emotions, feelings and thoughts, it help us to function better and make good decisions. Philisizwe, states that culture and people’s many different beliefs also detects one simple diagnosis when one is faced with a challenge. Parents should also acknowledge that their children have problems, listen and help to find solutions. She further alluded that mental health is not a facet of some scientific imagination or a minor problem in the greater scheme of things. It is a real issue that needs to be urgently addressed.
Ashley states that mental health issues are common amongst young people (us teens) because of stressors such as school, Matric exams making big life decisions and dealing with issues. These stressors and the expectations that come with them; are the ones that trigger problems. She further explained that parents, teachers and children themselves are not educated enough about mental health issues and therefore it is not a priority to be dealt with effectively. As teenagers we also use the words, “depressed” and “anxiety: freely that it becomes the “boy who cried wolf” situation even when it is genuine. Sometimes teachers and parents think, “Oh it is just another sad teenager”. This needs to come to an end. As teenagers, we feel alone in our struggles as we do not know how to approach parents and teachers without feeling like we are being judged or what we are doing or feeling is wrong. Ashley states that we should not expect everyone to be Dr. Phil, but as people; moms, dads, friends, everyone; we should take the initiative to stop judging teenage actions and listen to what the actions are saying. Listening can save young people’s life.
Nsangu states that many teenagers suffer from mental health problems because of many reasons but however, society plays a major role. Society’s expectations of us is that we should be “cool” and “trending”. Society also creates pressure that generates insecurities and stimulates behavior and bad decisions that get out of control. We fail to cope with the pressure and there is usually no-one to talk to about it, who actually understands. A teenager’s personal image is very important. It is not about trying to impress others but about being able to feel comfortable in one’s own skin. Mainstream society pressure should not make us insecure and begin to doubt ourselves for who we are. We must prevent mental health problems by talking freely about our issues.
Msuri stated that teenagers do not receive the same help from people around them such as family. Issues are brushed off and seen as weaknesses. These issues grow to become serious problems. Teenagers need to understand that there is nothing wrong with having a problem and that solutions can be found by talking to the right people we trust. The inactivity in solving mental health issues is huge which has led to things such as school violence, suicide and drug abuse. Education is very vital, and educating young people means that we can help prevent major problems that occur from the act of doing nothing at all. There are very few options given to young people such as “what happens after Matric”, or “what happens if I fail Matric” which can cause problems, the feelings of hopelessness can be prevented if we are educated and given more options.
Zinhle stated that young people should be educated about mental health. This will help them to be able to identify the issues and signals of mental health problems and assist them in healing each other. Zinhle says that people should take time to listen to young people’s problems and not bully or ignore them. Talking helps teenagers to find a way to reduce mental illness. Young people just want to be loved and cared for and heard. A hug can save a life.
Timothy stated that people are quick to think they understand how another person is and that is what makes them think their problem is worse than the other person’s. Teenage problems are not generally small or even “nonsense”, or just looking for “attention”. Teenagers suffering from depression and low self-esteem are the very same people who are walking around smiling like everything is okay, the very same teenagers you never expected to have problems at all. As teenagers we should not assume what another is feeling or going through. We should take the time to connect and really talk to each through meaningful conversations rather than just posting statuses and liking pictures on Facebook and Instagram. We need guidance and counselling services in schools and more recreational centers where young people can socialize and talk about what difficulties they are facing.
Rosemary stated educating teenagers is a vital part of who we are. Education allows us to remove stigma surrounding mental health issues and creates a space for us to freely talk about issues that worry us every day. The freedom to talk helps us to find ways of coping with our own issues every day. Some cultures and religion do not allow us to be truthful about how we feel as this brings shame and shows weakness. People can even tell you that depression is not real. The plight of mental illnesses affecting young people today is real. Mental illness can affect anyone. Taking care of your mental health is a form of important self-love and appreciation and if you are mentally healthy then everything in and around you will be healthy.
Xavien stated that being a dancer and a performer allows him to come across many people each day. People with many different challenges and difficulties. Xavien being a happy person feels he cannot turn a blind eye to someone who is having problems. He feels that some religions are a major contributing factor to mental health problems because of the expectations and pressure they place upon young people and people in general. Xavien counters depression and stress though dance and this gives him a calmer, relaxed perception on life. Dance can heal and bring about education. The education department needs to introduce more art and culture activities in schools and communities as these help young people who also find it difficult to talk so they can have an opportunity to express their emotions freely through movement.
Young people must Breathe, Relax and Remember that Emotions, Environment, Actions and thoughts Have no power over them so they must Exhale the bad stuff by finding help (B.R.E.AT.H.E).