Teenage Depression in South Africa
When we say Mental Disorders, What is the first thing that comes to your mind?
Well, maybe you got it! But for most people, all they can visualize is a man running naked or a woman who boils avocados before eating. This is why we are here to take your hand through the topic of mental disorder.
Mental disorders commonly affect adolescents in South Africa because teenagers are stereotyped as moody, with intensely fluctuating emotional highs and lows but usually go unrecognized and untreated. Common mental disorder is depression which negatively affects how you feel. If left untreated, depression can cause long term consequences which may affect every aspect of our life. Among these consequences, some of them are suicidal thoughts as the feeling of having death thoughts as the only way to escape the pain. Addiction, where people turn to self-medicating with substances like alcohol and drugs, self-injury where people tend to hurt themselves with methods like burning and cutting, and this act, is done when they have a terrible feeling and not caring to their life. There is also reckless behaviour, where people feel angry, hopeless and bad of themselves and here is when they intend to hurt themselves and do dangerous activities like driving drunk. Untreated depression also causes poor school performance because it diminishes concentration and decision making in class. Most importantly, it affects your health where you lose interest in eating, sleeping and exercise.
Is depression even a serious issue?
As at its worst, close to 800 000 people die due to suicide every year. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the age of 15-29, which is described as adolescents age. Currently, the treatment for this mental disorder is at the low stage where 76% and 85% of people in low- and middle-income countries receive no treatment for their disorder, and this is due to the lack of resources, lack of trained health-care and social stigma which is common.
Even though depression is a widespread issue affecting a significant number globally, depression levels in Africa are on the increase. Around 100 million of the population are suffering from it, and there are several causes of depression in Africa. Lack of economic status and unemployment is among the most causes of depression in Africa, where significant sections of the population across the continent still live below the poverty line. Poverty is causing mental distress and sadness because households are unable to afford life’s most basic needs. There is also high infant mortality as a source of depression, especially among mothers in rural areas who lose their children due to the disease and poor health. There is also war and conflicts as the common cause of human suffering and disruption of healthy lives, which results in depression.
14 out of 21 of African countries are ranked as the most countries with high depression prevalence, and South Africa is ranked as the 7th country with a high rate of depression. According to the South Africa Depression Anxiety Group (SADAG), one in six South Africans suffer from depression and anxiety commonly caused by violence, trauma, poverty, HIV. Among these, 40% of them are HIV patients, and 41% are pregnant women. Besides the prevalence of depression in young people is doubled compared to that of adults in South Africa with 38.3%, and one in five between 10-19 years old are at a high risk of committing suicide.
Why adolescents are the most affected by mental disorders?
Adolescents are affected here because they are stereotyped as moody, with fluctuating emotional disorders. However, they are different factors that develop depression due to environmental experiences such as loneliness, social isolation, bullying. And all these factors are the consequences of being overloaded with media and entertainment where more and more teens are using the Internet and SMS as their primary means of communication. They spend time socialising online than to the real world, and the studies have shown that spending time on the internet increase loneliness, social isolation and reduce social involvement since they do not have a real conversation with real people.
Although these numbers are increasing each day, in South Africa depression or any other mental disorder are not recognised because, in South African culture, the word depression does not exist. There is no way that people can open up and talk about depression since this word is not in their culture, and if they try to speak up, there are labelled as an attention seeker.
Besides, there are a lack of understanding about mental health in South Africa, especially black people and these are some of the misconceptions of depression. Depression is considered as a “Bougie Illness” in the black community, which mean that it is a white people illness. There is also a myth of saying that depression is “Yizinto Zabantu” which mean witchcraft, and people intend to go to traditional healers to cure it. All of these myths are the consequences of misunderstanding on depression and the reason why people do not talk about it.
One-third of adolescents in South Africa which is about seven million suffers from depression. Out of these seven million teenagers, only about 900,000 are willing to seek treatment. This shows that aside from the stigmatization attached to persons diagnosed with some mental disorders, there’s also a constraint of seeking help. To live off this stigmatization, about 21% of these teenagers result in harmful vices of self-harm, drugs and eventual suicide. For most people, the reasons they are unable to seek medical help is they believe they can deal with their mental issues privately, hence only them and maybe some of their family members know what is happening. For some who seek help, they are referred to churches for exorcism and only a few are lucky to be referred to a hospital.
How can you tell if a friend is suffering from any mental illness disorder?
There are different symptoms of depression and it varies according to people, However, below are some physical symptoms of a person struggling with depression, though symptoms here do not guarantee an accurate diagnosis.
- Constant Weight loss.
- Loss of appetite.
- Talks about guilt, sadness, regrets or bad experiences.
- Easily angered.
- Indifferent attitude towards their peers.
- Looking sad or having teary eyes.
- Constant desire to be alone.
- Saying goodbye with more emotions attached.
- Frequent use of harmful drugs like narcotics, sedatives etc.
- Talks about suicide or death more often.
What can we do for people with depression?
Listen to them
Just like the ratio of two ears and one mouth, if you found out that your friend is depressed. You need to practice the skill of active listening in order to assure them that you are there. Ask questions and show openness when talking with them.
Examining the situation, knowing what and what not to say is very important when it comes to helping a friend who is depressed. You should not talk about depression as an incurable disease or shut them out or yell at them. Doing this will only make them want to shy away from the situation and even seeking help
For most people who suffer from depression, their main plight is that they are confronted with difficulties that they cannot explain to others and if you are lucky that you can find a friend who confides in you, you should not go about telling others all you have discussed and some private information which this friend has entrusted in you. Doing this will only stir up the emotion of betrayal for the friend who just opened up to you.
Showing an act of kindness to people is a way of showing you care, you never know whose life you are saving just by giving the gift of kindness. I would like to end this article with a quote which says that “you might not have the luxury to plant a eucalyptus tree, but with your dedication, you can plant a tree of love in the heart of a person.
Referral to a psychologist
At times, things get out of hand and as a friend you might be unable to control the situation, An example is if a teenage talks more about death or suicide, even though you might feel capable to be of help. If you have tried what you can and there is still no progress, you should feel free to refer this friend to a qualified psychologist who has a speciality in dealing with such cases.
Organize a Focus group on mental disorders.
A person might have some mental illness disorders and not know it. This is because for most people mental illness has to be a physical manifestation of walking naked on the streets or even something worse, so you can hold a focus group discussion to enlighten teenagers on the effects, symptoms and support systems available for people with mental disorders.
Depression is a major global health problem. In the case of South Africa, it affects a significant proportion of the adolescent population, i.e a third of it is affected, the South African culture does not see very good eyes this mental disorder, they find themselves confronted with discrimination which only accentuates that. Although, the topic of mental disorder is still very much underemphasized, and daily about teen people die of depression in South Africa. it is our duty to give a helping hand to those who need emotional support because mentally healthy people contribute to the development of a nation.
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