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A country with spectacular landscapes and extremely diverse cultures has long been a symbol of hope throughout the world. With a dark history of racism and oppression comes the ideologies that would ultimately shape the hearts and minds of its citizens to provide the world with a nation determined in their resilience towards a better future.

However, behind the inspiration that such a nation provide, lies the growing crisis of a failing economy, taking a heavy toll on the mental health of its youth.

Economic challenges have been a part of the daily struggles among South Africa’s population for many years. High unemployment rates, income inequality and poverty mark the baseline of these challenges and is exacerbated by the fairly recent outbreak of COVID-19 which caused financial havoc on a global scale. The consequences of the economic downturn have caused many families to downscale, fall behind on debt repayments, and even lost their jobs and homes. The burden of these effects heavily rests not just on the adult population, but also on its youth.

As the future of the nation, South Africa’s youth are facing the mental health challenges that comes with this financial downturn. In 2021, youth unemployment rates reached 75% which led to feelings of hopelessness and despair among families. For many of the youth, their financial struggles mean less access to essential services, education, and basic health services. Studies have shown a strong correlation between economic turmoil, unemployment, violence, and crime which directly affect mental health. The lack of opportunities leaves the South African youth with feelings of being trapped and unmotivated and leads to counterproductive attitudes towards change.

Due to the diverse culture in South Africa, addressing the youth mental health crisis is a challenging task. To mitigate the negative impacts that the economy may have on youth, we need to look at the steps that may be taken to provide support.

Mental Health Awareness: Through community initiatives, educational programs and public campaigns, we have the ability to raise mental health awareness and reduce the stigma surrounding the idea on not just a social level, but also a cultural level.

Access to mental health services: This is a crucial step in the call for change and provides a platform of inclusivity among diverse populations.

Economic Reform: Economic reform can generate employment for South Africa’s youth on a national level, and reduce economic inequality within societies. Economic reform can help alleviate stress and anxiety that may be experiences by not just the youth, but also their families.

Youth Empowerment: To Navigate a challenging economic landscape, empowerment programs may help young people to develop skills through training and mentorship.

Community Support: Organizations aimed at serving the community, offer safe spaces in which the youth may access much needed resources in their quest for a better future.

Although the economic crisis may blanket much of South Africa’s beauty and potential, there is hope in the idea that together as a society, we are able to alleviate the effects and motivate change. The failing economy poses a major mental health risk to the future of South Africa and its nation. By providing the necessary tools to the South African youth, we can build a successful future for generations to come.

Written by Justice Desk Africa's Psycho-Social Intervention Work Integrated Learning SACAP Psychology Student, Stefan Fouche

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May 14

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