Focus on adolescent health for Youth Month

Shiloh Watlington encourages all adolescents struggling with any type of mental health struggle to reach out and access help at their nearest health care facility.

The Western Cape Health Department has dedicated services for youth aimed to improve access to services at facilities across the province.

Adolescence can be an exciting and overwhelming time filled with new challenges and adventures for teenagers and their parents. Adolescence is the phase of life between childhood and adulthood (ages 10 to 19) where teenagers may face specific challenges that can affect their development and these can be grouped in three key categories: mental, behavioural and physical.

Depression, anxiety and behavioural disorders are among the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents and this past month has seen youth across the province undergo school exams and this can often be a cause of stress.

Globally, it is estimated that 1 in 7 (14%) 10- to 19-year-olds experience mental health challenges, yet these remain largely unrecognised and untreated, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Shiloh Watlington, 15, experienced severe panic attacks and anxiety in his first year of high school last year. “It felt very scary because I was always worried when and if the panic attacks would come. I could not control it at the time, and as it was my first year in high school, you can imagine what it would feel like still having to make new friends.”

There were times he needed to leave the classroom. “The first day I had my panic attack, the teacher took me to the sick bay and comforted me. A week later the principal had an assembly to talk about mental health issues – I felt like the environment was one where I was supported.”

Dr Brett Van Der Schyff, psychologist for the Western Cape Government, shares advice with adolescents and caregivers on navigating mental health and how you can access services in times of crises.

The following guidelines recommended by Dr Van Der Schyff are not only good for taking care of our physical health but can have a positive impact on our mental health too; do regular exercise because it is beneficial as it can release feel-good brain chemicals, to choose a healthy diet, get enough sleep and to decrease screen time.

Dr Brett Van Der Schyff is passionate about mental health and working together with as many stakeholders as possible to create access to help for young people.

When focusing solely on maintaining good mental health, Dr Van Der Schyff recommended that patients remain adherent to a treatment programme that you and your health care provider have decided on, to reach out to family and friends for mental health support and for caregivers to be intentional about creating frequent and consistent opportunity for the adolescent in their home to connect with you.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit your nearest primary healthcare facility or clinic for support.

Dr Van Der Schyff said a full range of in- and outpatient mental health services are available in both the metro and rural areas of the province and patients will be referred to the nearest appropriate facility for further evaluation and treatment as necessary.

In addition to visiting your nearest clinic, you can also contact these organisations for help and assistance:

SADAG – Toll-free number – 0800 567 567

Lifeline Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0800 121 314 /0861 322 322

Adcock Ingram Helpline – 0800 708 090

Akeso Psychiatric Response – 0861 435 787

Childline – 0800 055 555 or 116

Cipla 24hr Helpline – 0800c456c789

Dr Reddy’s Helpline – 0800 212 223

Shiloh encourages all teens struggling to ask for help.

“With help and prayer support from my family and accessing medical help at my nearest clinic, I have overcome a terrible time in my life. Don’t be ashamed or afraid to reach out and ask for help. I felt very embarrassed to talk about it at first, because it’s something you want to forget. I realise now it’s just better to talk to someone, it’s so much easier than having these heavy issues to deal with. Prayer and seeking help worked for me. Do what you need to do, get the help you need.”

Adolescents may also face many health and social challenges which puts them at a higher risk of unwanted pregnancy, unsafe abortion and sexually transmitted infections and substance abuse.

The WCHD health care facilities offer support to adolescents and families in a way that does not make adolescents feel unwelcomed and embarrassed. Healthcare workers will also keep the reason for your visit confidential.

While youth can attend any clinic during operational hours to access healthcare, many facilities in the province have dedicated programmes and staff to support teenagers after school between 2pm and 4pm from Monday to Friday, to ensure their schooling is not disrupted. Some clinics offer these dedicated services from 07:00.

The following health clinic in Southern and Western district offer youth friendly services such as family planning support, substance abuse referrals, STI counselling and testing, as well as mental health support:

Grassy Park Community Day Centre – from 7am to 8am and 2pm to 4pm and Lotus River Community Day Centre from 2pm to 3.30pm.