The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates 10% to 20% of adolescents worldwide struggle with mental health issues.
In recognition of World Teen Mental Wellness Day today, IOL Lifestyle spoke to Songezo Malangeni, deputy head at The Ridge School, who is an advocate for social justice.
He said, "As Nelson Mandela said, a teacher can change the world. Our country is quite broken and young people desperately need quality teachers to build and instil values in young minds from a tender age that will carry them throughout their lives.“
Seeing as there are quite a few terms that always surface in connection with helping young people cope with mental health issues, you may wonder what this new term is. Fundamentally, social justice is about hearing, seeing, and understanding people, not only our family members, friends, and neighbours, but also those in the wider community and ensuring everyone is treated fairly, respectfully, and equally.
Malangeni goes on to say, “Social justice is an umbrella term that encompasses fairness and equality in the distribution of resources in communities, even though we know that in South Africa that does not really exist. I strongly believe that we can challenge and work towards moulding children who are conscious adults who want to build rather than destroy.”
It's reported that as many as 57% of South African learners have been bullied at some time during their high school careers. Bullying and violent outbursts are other indicators of a mental health condition.
How can social justice help our societies overcome some of these problems, especially when it comes to the inadequate attention already given to mental health issues?
Malangeni said, “It’s so normal to treat issues in isolation, but it's actually important to engage all the stakeholders involved, from parents to educators and the community.
“For example, you need to develop awareness in all these pillars and then the children themselves need to have a voice and be heard.”
He further states, “The mistake that people make is that they think that the issues facing our children must be addressed in isolation or in higher education or high school; it is an error.
“It’s so important to educate your child/ren young and use the language they understand and, most importantly, provide a foundation that will carry them through.
“For example, in Grade 3 we use the initiative called the ‘happy chappy’ which focuses on self and others. So what makes you happy and how have you made other people happy. That is just a clever way of just saying focus on yourself and again on how you make others feel.”
According to the deputy head, as children become older, parents should start using age-appropriate ways of addressing and dealing with understanding their children's realities.
"I think schools also need to educate parents because sometimes the reality is that they do not know how to have these conversations at home, and it's not helpful if at school we say A, B, and C and then you get home and the child hears L. Parents are crucial to convey a consistent message.
“We’ve come from such a dark age with that whole thing that boys don’t cry and, personally, I’ve had the opportunity to be allowed to be gentle in my life and told that being vulnerable doesn't mean weak. And so if we can pass on that message to young kids, that your feelings are valid, and give them time to feel and not bottle things up, that's a step in the right direction,” said Malangeni.
Although the conversations have shifted dramatically in mental health, there's no practical reality of implementation to it.
“In order to alleviate the problems afflicting our societies, policies must be implemented in a systematic manner. To turn policies and documents into actionable goals, we need to start doing the work and finding people who are willing to do so,” added Malangeni.
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