As World Suicide Prevention Day approaches on September 10, the #Keready movement is taking centre stage in raising awareness and providing essential support for young people’s mental health.
Comprising 10 dedicated young doctors and a team of 96 nurses, along with communicators, drivers, and mobilisers, #Keready is ensuring that youth in four provinces across South Africa – Eastern Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, and Western Cape – have access to vital health services.
This initiative not only aims to promote a healthy lifestyle, but also tackles the sensitive issue of suicide prevention among the youth.
In recent years, there has been an alarming rise in suicide deaths and mental health issues among South African youth. To address this crisis, it is crucial to normalise conversations around suicide prevention and mental health.
By creating a supportive environment where young people feel comfortable discussing their struggles, we can promote awareness, and understanding, and ultimately save lives.
The rising mental health crisis in South Africa
Studies have shown that mental health issues are on the rise among South African youth. According to a report by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), depression rates have increased by a staggering 58% in the past decade.
Furthermore, UCT found that suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people aged 15 to 24 in South Africa.
The South African Society of Psychiatrists (SASOP) states that almost one in 10 teenage deaths in South Africa every year are the result of suicide. Up to 20% of high school learners have tried to take their own lives.
However, suicides rarely happen without warning, and learning and recognising these signals is the most effective way to prevent suicide.
One of the main barriers preventing young people from seeking help is the stigma surrounding mental health. By normalising conversations about these issues, we can break down the barriers that prevent young people from seeking the support they need.
Research has shown that when individuals feel comfortable discussing mental health, they are more likely to seek help and adhere to treatment.
The vulnerability of young people
Dr James Menyah-Artivor, a young doctor involved in #Keready, points out that mental health challenges, including suicidality, can affect individuals from diverse backgrounds, regardless of culture, gender, or economic status.
Unfortunately, young people are particularly vulnerable to these challenges. Recognising this, #Keready has taken a proactive approach to address mental health concerns and provide a safe space for young individuals to seek help and support.
SASOP further states that a 2011 Youth Risk Behaviour Survey (YRBS) found that a quarter of Grade 8–11 learners across all of South Africa’s provinces had felt so sad or hopeless that they couldn’t engage in their usual daily activities for two weeks or more.
More than one in six learner had either thought about suicide, made plans to commit suicide, or attempted it at least once in the past six months.
This suggests a large proportion of teenagers are suffering from mental and emotional health problems.
As part of the #Keready movement, 46 mobile health clinics have been established to offer health checks and screenings for various conditions, including sexually transmitted infections, blood pressure, diabetes, and HIV.
These clinics also serve as a platform for young people to ask questions about their health, including mental well-being.
The young doctors involved in #Keready understand the unique challenges faced by today’s youth and actively encourage open and honest conversations about mental health.
By breaking down the stigma associated with mental health issues, they aim to create an environment where young individuals feel comfortable seeking support and sharing their experiences.
#Keready employs innovative marketing campaigns, such as TikTok challenges, podcasts, and WhatsApp messages, to engage with young individuals and provide practical tips and self-care strategies.
As young medical practitioners, they also know and understand the challenges youth face today, and encourage open conversations about mental health.
“By promoting open, honest conversations, we hope to combat the stigma associated with mental health issues and create a safe space for young people to seek support and share their experiences,” said Dr Afifa Titus, another one of the doctors who oversee the WhatsApp a #Keready Doctor line.
These initiatives help young people manage their health and emotions and reduce stress and anxiety. Additionally, #Keready shares valuable information about mental health services, support hotlines, and online communities that offer local assistance.
Dr Asanda Shabalala, a key member of #Keready, invites the community, media, and all caring individuals to join the suicide prevention efforts, especially on this significant day.
By breaking the silence surrounding mental health and fostering a culture of understanding, compassion, and resilience among young people, we can make a significant impact.
#Keready's website provides information on mobile clinics in your area (Gauteng, Western Cape, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal), and their doctors are available 24/7 through their WhatsApp line (060 019 00 00).
Additionally, they host a weekly TikTok Live every Wednesday at 7pm on their TikTok channel (@kereadysa).