How South African Youths Navigate Mental Health In 2021


The topic of mental health is a complex one, and it has become an even more complicated and intricate conversation in 2021, as people have begun to slowly come to terms with life under Covid-19. Speaking to three university students, each share their experiences with mental health in 2021 and how they have found themselves in spaces in which mental health has become less of a taboo, as they each journey towards individual growth in their mental well-being.


Providing greater perspective on the South African youth’s reactions towards conversations about mental health and how they have coped with their own, three university students share the positive change that has come out of their willingness to acknowledge that something needed to be done about their psychological well-being.

The first story comes from a student by the name of Bassie Tsuene. Revealing a great sense of vulnerability in telling of their mental health journey, they shared that they had recently come out of a two-week rehabilitation programme after suffering from a month-long depressive episode. 

They speak candidly about their experiences with mental health and having sought professional help in attempts to “destigmatize” the topic of mental health and open up conversations around it.

Acknowledging that there is a need for mental health to be acknowledged with a greater seriousness than it has been thus far, Tsuene shares that seeking rehabilitation aided in enlightening them “to the experiences of others, and other mental health issues apart from depression and anxiety which are the most common”, also noting how their experience also resulted in their family's perceptions of mental health being transformed for the better.

To end off, they explain how they have also learnt to view mental health, not only as a result of childhood trauma, but in other spheres as well. In emphasizing this point, they use the example of a person who may perhaps be financially or economically stable, but because of their queerness, or non-conformity in other contexts, cannot exist comfortably in a society that largely condemns their identity, which can form a different path to mental health issues.

Different foundations for mental health outside of childhood include circumstances such as the 2-year pandemic that we are still in the midst of, or the academic strain that students continue to face, which have both become even more prominent examples of root causes for the deterioration of mental health in South African youth as of late.

Sharing their own story about how the pandemic has opened up new foundations of conversation around mental health, a UCT second-year psychology student and entrepreneur opens up about the fact that the pandemic, having forced him to spend more time in isolation, allowed him more time to come to grips with his emotions more regularly.

He shares further that he was able to achieve this emotional introspection as “there [have been] limited distractions compared to before Covid”. He also shares that he has “been in so many situations where people have openly spoken about their mental state in contexts where it would’ve been surprising pre-pandemic”.

His experience with conversations around mental health during Covid-19 has become more open than before, with some of his university tutors even having normalised “check-ins” with students before tutorials.

The pandemic has been strenuous on everyone, and it is perhaps this knowledge that everyone’s circumstances have grown substantially tougher that has instituted a greater openness towards sharing about mental health issues, whereas in simpler times, it may not have been as easy. 

Another student shares how the pandemic became simultaneously a source of mental deterioration, and a source of realisation, forcing her to reevaluate her mental wellbeing and how she has resolved to cope with it. 

Having suffered from anxiety and depression for a while during high school, she shares that her mental state began to improve after matriculating. However, after deciding to make the move from Pretoria to Cape Town in the midst of a pandemic, hoping to complete her studies in a new city, her mental health began to plummet once more. 

Realising that she was in a bad place psychologically, she made her return to Pretoria where she spent valuable time with friends and family. Thereafter, she made the point of transforming her Cape Town experience so as to allow for a less mentally strenuous and more healthy experience.

It was in the acknowledgement of her mental health struggles that she was able to engage in some self-introspection in order to set herself on the right path once again. 

All three stories see the students approach their mental health from a place of accepting that they are suffering psychologically, and an open willingness to resolve their mental health dilemmas, whether on their own or through seeking professional aid. 

This, however, does not erase the fact that mental health is still highly stigmatized in many social spheres. Nonetheless, the youth’s openness towards these conversations are a step in the right direction.

If you are struggling with your mental health, you can contact the South African Depression & Anxiety Group (SADAG) by dialing 0800 12 13 14. 

Click here to view more helplines.




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