In the South African youth community, depression and suicide are on the rise. A recent study done by Professor Lourens Schlebusch and Naseema Vawda, from the University of Natal, shows that the number of attempted suicides in the black community has increased by over 50%, in the last ten years. A quarter of these attempts were by people 18 years of age or younger. This increase has been attributed, in part, to the post-Apartheid society, in which black people are struggling to come to terms with the deleterious effects of former racial policies and socio-cultural pressures. Suicide has also been shown to have become a more acceptable alternative in certain situations, especially amongst the youth, who tend to bear the brunt of cultural change. This, combined with the end of year stress caused by exams, can lead to devastating consequences.
To combat this frightening situation, the South African National Depression and Anxiety Support Group, amongst other things, recently ran a "Coping Skills Training Programme" in the East Rand. It ran from the 28th of September to the 16th of October 1999, and was attended by volunteers in the health and mental health professions. There were young people from the Health Youth Organisation, the AIDS Youth Project and the Red Cross. Seminars were conducted in the mornings and in the afternoons on topics like Goal-Setting and Problem Solving, Communication, Stress Management, Healthy Lifestyles and Knowing Yourself, and Depression, Anxiety Disorders and Suicide, that were presented by various psychologists, namely Colinda Linde, Lauren Edelman, Nosisa Mdutshane, Shereen Abramowitz, and Christina Moroeng, all of whom gave their time and skills free of charge. Therry Nhlapo, Director of the Depression and Anxiety Support Group co-ordinated the whole programme. The emphasis was on participation and all the sessions were very interactive.
The rationale behind this programme was to educate and thereby empower various youth health volunteers, who are often the primary source of information for many young sufferers. The focus was on taking what they had learned back to their communities. Many of the participants commented that the programme was extremely beneficial, as this was what they were dealing with in their respective workplaces every day. Lettie, a volunteer at the Health Youth Organisation, stated: "I think this course is good because as well as giving us information on how to help others, it helps us. Often the people that come to us think that we, one person, can solve all their problems. It can be very stressful and depressing for us. Learning to cope with this is good."
Colinde Linda, a Johannesburg psychologist who conducted a number of the seminars, stated that: "Stress affects everyone, therefore everyone benefits from empowering themselves in terms of coping skills and understanding what stress is. Workshops like these are particularly important for community and peer counsellors who are faced with enormous amounts of stress, both with regard to who they counsel and in terms of their own stress levels."
The programme ended on a high note with a graduation ceremony, where all the participants were awarded certificates. As well as an opportunity for the youth representatives to comment on the course, it was also a chance for these newly empowered people to be motivated to take all they had learned and to share it with their communities. Mr Lucky Legodi, an actor, singer and motivational speaker emphasised to the audience the value of work and the profit in using their God-given potential. He also stated the importance of directing any information you get positively back into the community, as information that is not used is useless.
Mr Lucky Legodi was followed by Mr Jeoff Vilane, who also emphasised the importance of the actions that follow a focused mind. He said it's easy to sit in a seminar and take notes, but very different to do what you've written down. He acknowledged depression as a "killer disease", and the good work being done by these young people, but also stressed "care of the caretaker". He reminded the audience that to help and support others, they also need a shoulder to lean on. Both speakers were inspirational and encouraged the participants to use what they had learned.
The graduation ceremony was also attended by Ms Angy Maloka, Deputy Director, Department of Health, Mental Health Directorate in Gauteng. She congratulated the participants and emphasised the benefits for her organisation in establishing partnerships with non-governmental organisations. She stated the challenge now was to spread the programme to other regions.
The programme was well received by all the participants and all in all was a huge success. This marks the beginning of a much-needed focus on the problems faced by the youth of South Africa, and also the beginning of new and hopefully on-going empowerment for them.