The Rise In Youth Mental Illness, And How To Combat It

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By Anna Van Reenen

This article is exclusive to the Online Edition 5 of VARSITY News.


At least 17% of children and adolescents in the Western Cape have been diagnosed with mental disorders, and only a quarter of this population are receiving treatment. In addition, there are a multitude of people who are suffering with mental health issues that are undiagnosed, who are also not receiving such treatment.


The number of youths dealing with mental health issues has increased, and Newlands-based psychologist CJ L’Hoste has some input as to why. In general, the act of receiving mental health treatment is less stigmatised, and thus more people are willing to acknowledge their difficulties and seek treatment.


L’Hoste noted that there are bigger pressures on this generation, and pressures of a different nature. This includes financial pressure, which can be from family or from peers, as well as the increased pressure that a university degree is viewed as necessary in today’s working world. University work can be gruelling, tough and competitive, which also in turn leads to increased anxiety and depression, amongst other things.


An increase in socio-economic problems also has an effect on mental health. Unemployment certainly leads to mental illnesses such as depression, and South Africa’s unemployment rate is very high, especially for university graduates. In addition, illnesses such as HIV/AIDS also affect mental health, and South Africa is currently suffering from an epidemic, with almost 20% of the entire population being HIV positive.


Wider access to information can damage mental health. L’Hoste commented that ‘social media’s impact creates a feeling of isolation and false living’. The standards that social media sets for a ‘perfect life’ are untrue and unattainable. This can then lead to eating disorders, depression, anxiety and suicide.


Despite wider access to information having negative effects on today’s youth, there are some positives. L’Hoste commented that wider access to information combined with the destigmatisation of mental health issues means that people are more aware of mental health problems and its struggles. She also noted that often this wide access can lead to correct self-diagnosis; clients will come to her knowing exactly what their problems are. For example, people can now differentiate between being shy and actually suffering from social anxiety, thanks to the internet and other resources which are relatively new.


Unfortunately, seeking help is still difficult and often very expensive. There are a number of free or low-cost resources for mental health treatment in Cape Town, which can be found below:

  • PRESCRIBED MINIMUM BENEFITS: If you have medical aid, you can get 15 free sessions with a psychologist or psychiatrist per year.
  • SAPS: All police stations offer free short-term trauma counselling.
  • THE COUNSELLING HUB: Based in Woodstock, clients can see mental health professionals for just R50 a session. See:
  • HOPE HOUSE: The Bergvliet centre, whilst not free, runs on a ‘pay-what-you-can’ system and offers one-hour counselling sessions, particularly to children and young adults. See:
  • UCT STUDENT WELLNESS: Students can receive free counselling sessions through Student Wellness. See:
  • TRIANGLE PROJECT: This organisation offers safe spaces, counselling services and support groups for LGBTQIA+ youth at various locations around Cape Town. See:
  • SADAG: This organisation offers over 200 support groups around Cape Town for mental illnesses such as bipolar, depression and anxiety, and also offer a free 24/7 call centre. See:


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