Highlighting the importance of child and adolescent mental health

Child Gauge 2022: How early experiences of adversity ripple out across the life course and generations at great cost to individuals and society

UNICEF South Africa
UNICEF South Africa/2021
23 June 2022

Cape Town: COVID-19 has put the mental health and well-being of an entire generation at even greater risk. The disruption to their routines, education, recreation, as well as concern for family income and health, is leaving many young people feeling afraid, angry and anxious for their future.

Child and adolescent mental health was therefore the focus of the 2021/2022 South African Child Gauge, launched at the University of Cape Town on the eve of National Youth Day. With support from UNICEF and other partners, the South African Child Gauge is published annually by the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town in order to monitor progress towards realizing the rights of children in South Africa.

Addressing an audience over nearly 150 in-person (and 350 online) comprising academia, civil society, government and media, UNICEF South Africa Representative, Christine Muhigana provided sobering statistics. It is estimated that more than 13 per cent of adolescents aged 10–19 live with a diagnosed mental disorder. This represents 86 million adolescents aged 15–19 and 80 million adolescents aged 10–14. Anxiety and depression make up about 40 per cent of these diagnosed mental disorders; the others include attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, conduct disorder, intellectual disability, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, autism, schizophrenia and a group of personality disorders. In addition, almost 46,000 adolescents die from suicide each year, among the top five causes of death for their age group.

UNICEF South Africa/2022/Reddy
Christine Muhigana, UNICEF South Africa Representative, being interviewed by RX Radio youth correspondents at the Child Gauge Launch at the University of Cape Town.

Many of the speakers – all experts in the field of child protection – noted that it is essential to place children at the centre of all policies and to create an enabling environment that will protect children from harm, build their capacity to cope with stress and adversity, and provide them with opportunities to thrive. Prevention of mental health problems is after all more cost-effective and leads to better health and wellbeing outcomes than treatment alone.

“UNICEF calls for commitment, communication and action to promote good mental health for every child, protect vulnerable children and care for children facing the greatest challenges,” noted Ms. Muhigana before reminding the audience that “the risk is that the aftershocks of this pandemic will chip away at the happiness and well-being of children, adolescents and caregivers for years to come – that they will pose a risk to the foundations of mental health. For if the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that our mental health is profoundly affected by the world around us.”

About Child Gauge

The South African Child Gauge is an annual publication of the Children’s Institute, University of Cape Town. It aims to report on and monitor the situation of children in South Africa, in particularly the realisation of their rights. The publication focuses on a different theme each year.

Child Gauge 2022