October 10 marks World Mental Health Day, which this year focuses on the effects of trauma and violence on children. This holds particular significance for South Africans who have been shocked to the core by a virtual epidemic of child abuse, the most abhorrent being the senseless and brutal rape of infants under a year old.
Violence against children is possibly the most unspeakable of abominations in that it goes against the natural order of virtually all societies in which it is expected that parents - indeed all adults – protect and nurture their young until they are able to fend for themselves. Abuse of children therefore destroys the very fabric of society, resulting in moral decay and social disorder.
The effect on the child, however, is life-shattering. Abuse inhibits emotional, spiritual and psychological development and in turn contributes to a cycle of violence that can affect generations. It is well-documented that abused children often grow up to be abusers themselves
Contrary to some beliefs, aggression, force, excessive control and all forms of violence are learned behavioural patterns which are adopted at a very young age. They are retained and reinforced either by being condoned or by not challenging and replacing anti-social habits with more appropriate and socially acceptable ones. It is even more unfortunate when such behaviour is modelled or encouraged by the adults in a child’s home and social environment.
World Mental Health Day and its emphasis on child abuse is therefore a day for serious reflection and concerted action in a country that has developed the unfortunate reputation as one of the most violent societies on earth. The rape of babies in particular has received worldwide coverage and has created an ugly image this new democracy can do without. Unfortunately, it is not just about rape, but the infliction of torture and appalling injuries – sometimes ending in death - on the most vulnerable members of society that is cause for concern.
Research has shown that more violence and trauma occur in the home than in any other place. Sadly, most of the perpetrators are people the child trusts the most: parents, relatives, family friends, even siblings. Rape, neglect, poverty, educational deprivation, physical beatings, verbal abuse and the like are sometimes the only things some children understand as "normal." Without the maturity to understand what has occurred and how to deal with it, to whom may an abused child turn for help?
The SADASG aims, on this Mental Health Day, to bring to the attention of the public the need for ongoing awareness and support in order to help stem the tide of violence sweeping the country, not only reducing the mental and physical impact it has on society, but providing effective and affordable care to its victims.
Symptoms arising out of child abuse that can be helped by groups such as the SADAG, include:
· excessive anxiety
There are many resources at hand, including parenting workshops, individual and family therapy, literature to improve insight and understanding, children’s workshops, school counsellors, local physicians, support groups and local church ministers.
Should you identify in some way with the above and need to chat to a counsellor, the helpline at the Depression and Anxiety Support Group can assist with a comprehensive list of referrals and resources. The Group may be contacted on weekdays from 8.00 a.m. until 7.00 p.m. and on Saturdays from 8.00 a.m. until 5.00 p.m. on telephone number (011) 783 1474