65 per cent of young people with mental health related issues did not seek help – UNICEF

U-Report poll findings and #OnMyMind campaign launched to galvanize action to improve mental health support for young people in South Africa

05 October 2021

PRETORIA, 5 October 2021 – Some 65 per cent of young people stated that they had some form of a mental health issue but did not seek help, according to findings from the latest UNICEF South Africa U-Report poll.

More than a quarter of respondents didn’t think their mental health problem was serious enough to seek support, while 20 per cent did not know where to get help and 18 per cent were afraid of what people would think. Increased poverty and a lack of hope for the future, top the reasons given for children and young people’s anxiety, showing a shift from violence as the lead reason in a similar poll six months ago.

The U-Report findings are released at the start of mental health awareness month in South Africa and alongside the launch of the #OnMyMind campaign and UNICEF’s global flagship report, The State of the World’s Children 2021; On My Mind: promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health.

“Mental health impacts on every part of a child’s life, including their physical health, which is why it’s so important that we provide the support they need now,” said Christine Muhigana, UNICEF South Africa Representative. “There is still a stigma around mental health issues that can prevent young people from seeking help,” added Muhigana.

The #OnMyMind campaign aims to help break the stigma among mental health, while the global UNICEF report warns that children and young people could feel the impact of COVID-19 on their mental health and well-being for many years to come.

The U-Report poll and global report also show that many mental health issues existed before COVID-19. More than half of U-Report respondents stated that they had mental health related issues before COVID-19.

“Even before the pandemic, far too many children were living with mental health issues that were not being discussed or dealt with,” said Muhigana. “Today, so many children and young people have lost family members, missed out on seeing friends, had their education disrupted, and see a future with fewer opportunities to thrive,” added Muhigana.

UNICEF South Africa and partners are working to improve mental health support for children and young people, including through:

  • U-Report mental health chat bot to provide tips for mental health conversations and links to additional resources.
  • Technical and financial support to ChildLine SA for those affected by mental health issues and Safe Parks that protect and empower vulnerable children and young people.
  • Parenting programmes that equip caregivers with the skills needed to support the wellbeing of their children, such as the ‘Protect children and help them heal’ booklet.
  • Parenting for lifelong health that offers a package of evidence-based, cost-effective and home-based parenting programmes that rely on local lay workers.
  • Psychosocial support and training for educators, who in-turn can improve support for learners, including referrals to more specialized care.
  • Access to opportunities through the Generation Unlimited initiative for young people to acquire work mentorships, digital skills, and entrepreneurship opportunities.

In support of children and young people, UNICEF South Africa calls for all partners to:

  • Strengthen the child rights governance system, with clear roles and responsibilities for everyone involved in a child’s life, to create a nurturing care environment.
  • Support and empower parents, caregivers, children and young people to be able to seek advice and access quality mental health and psychosocial support services needed to improve mental health.
  • Integrate and scale up evidence-based interventions across sectors, including positive parenting programmes, safe parks and schools support to mental health.
  • Break the silence, address stigma and promote better understanding of mental health and the experiences of children and young people.
  • Improve collaboration between government, private sector, civil society and academia to accelerate investments in psychosocial support and to create hope through youth empowerment and employment so young people can thrive.               

Notes to Editors

The UNICEF South Africa U-Report poll received 5,500 responses, with 75 per cent of those from young people aged up to 24-years. U-Report is a SMS platform to encourage youth participation and to help young people to have a voice on issues that matter to them and to access information, tools and services to influence positive social change.

For access to The State of the World’s Children 2021; On My Mind: promoting, protecting and caring for children’s mental health’ please go here

Media contacts

Toby Fricker
Chief of Communication & Partnerships
UNICEF South Africa
Tel: +27 61 418 7486
Sudeshan Reddy
Communication Specialist
UNICEF South Africa
Tel: +27 82 561 3970


UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in over 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special efforts on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children everywhere.

Working with a range of partners, UNICEF has had a presence in South Africa since the end of apartheid and continues to work towards bettering the lives of all children in the country.

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