Young people and mental health in a changing world
The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines adolescence as the period between 10 – 19 years of age. Adolescence is generally understood to be a transitional phase between childhood and adulthood characterised by extensive physical, cognitive, social and psychological development. Identity formation comes to the fore and adolescents may engage in exploration and experimentation, resulting in various risk behaviours such as unprotected/unsafe sex, harmful use of alcohol and illicit drugs. These shifts are often associated with the “normative stress” that adolescents experience (Barker, 2007). For thousands who face difficult life situations, the challenge of coping with the ordinary developmental issues of this stage are greatly increased.
Adolescents are immensely affected by socio-economic and socio-political changes taking place in the world around them which consequently influences day to day decisions they make. These changes are influenced by among other things, politics, globalization, migration, health issues, education and migration. Adolescent in East and Southern Africa face socio-economic and socio-political environment embedded in poverty, war, disease and poor governance. The one factor to note is the impact of HIV and AIDS on the population in this region. AIDS has put a strain to the health delivery system, the economy and consequently affected the family system.
Outside their home environment, adolescents may find themselves exposed to values that are contrary to their cultural practices, beliefs and values. Some adolescents therefore try to fit into both worlds and in an attempt to do so they move back and forth from the traditional home space to the modern public space. This has potential to leave the adolescents not knowing what they should do and ashamed of who they are. Consequently, a gap is created leaving adolescents to seek information/answers from other sources, for example, the internet, television, friends and social media, thus leaving adolescents with broad but shallow relationships (Winberg, 2008).
Adolescents living in circumstances such as these are mostly at risk to mental distress and illness. According to WHO (2018), half of all mental distress and illness begins by the age of 14, with a number of such cases going undetected.
Social support has been shown to improve the psychological, physiological and social health of adolescents. Research looking at adolescent health seeking behaviours suggests that adolescents rely on support from formal structures such as health facilities, as well as on informal support in the form of family and friends. Psychosocial support in the form of services that address the stated needs of adolescents and encourage holistic and participative approaches are of central importance. Access to emotional and social support is an important buffer against stress and programmes need to focus on strengthening support structures within the families of as well as within their communities.
The Regional Psychosocial Support Initiative (REPSSI) provides technical capacity enhancement to its partners to strengthen communities’ and families’ ability to promote the psychosocial and mental wellbeing of their children and youth. Our vision is all girls, boys and youth enjoy psychosocial and mental wellbeing.