UCT Children’s Institute and partner organisations are collaborating to petition government to improve mental health support services for children and adolescents and are calling on you for support too.
UCT Children’s Institute, in collaboration with its partner organisations, has launched a petition to encourage government to improve mental health support services for children and adolescents. Child and adolescent mental health are the foundation of a strong, vibrant, and caring society. Yet, SA’s youth are near breaking point. Far too many children and adolescents are struggling with mental health challenges and are unable to access the care and support they need.
Despite the recently released National Mental Health Policy that affirms government’s commitment to prioritise the needs of children and adolescents, the country’s child and adolescent mental healthcare services sector is in crisis. And recent cuts in healthcare spending pose further threats to service delivery in this vital sector. Considering this, UCT Children’s Institute (CI); the Centre for Public Mental Health; and the Centre for Autism Research in Africa are calling on government to put the necessary human and financial resources in place to close the treatment gap and ensure that young people can access the mental healthcare services they need. The three centres are working in partnership with the Institute of Life Course Health Research at Stellenbosch University, and the South African Association of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Allied Professions.
MENTAL HEALTH DISORDERS IN CHILDREN
More than one in 10 children in SA have a diagnosable and treatable mental health disorder. This includes depression; anxiety; post-traumatic stress disorder; conduct, learning, and substance-use disorders; as well as neurodevelopmental disorders such as attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder and autism.
AN UNDERSTAFFED AND UNDERFUNDED AREA
To provide children and adolescents with the support they need, researchers believe that adopting early interventions is crucial. But, despite the National Department of Health’s Child and Adolescent Mental Health Policy, implemented in 2003 to strengthen services and support young people, child and adolescent mental healthcare services in the country remain severely understaffed and underfunded. Only 15 child and adolescent psychiatrists are currently working in the public healthcare system. In most communities, mental health services for young people are simply unavailable – leaving nine in every 10 children with a diagnosable mental health disorder, but unable to access treatment. In addition, very few healthcare facilities have dedicated centres for children and adolescents with acute mental health illness. As a result, adolescents who require treatment are kept in adult wards where they may be exposed to adult psychiatric patients and assessed by staff who lack the appropriate skills and expertise to treat children and adolescents.
“In April this year, we welcomed the release of the new National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategic Plan 2023-2030, and the Department of Health’s commitment to prioritise child and adolescent mental health. But we remain wary that these may be empty promises and that children’s needs may again get side-lined following cuts to government spending on health care services,” the statement indicated.
A CALL TO ACTION
To ensure children and adolescents’ mental health is prioritised, the CI and its partner organisations have put together a petition calling on Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla and Minister of Finance Enoch Godongwana to put those resources outlined in the 2003 Child and Adolescent Mental Health Policy in place and to:
- Increase the number of facilities that offer child and adolescent mental health services and ensure that these services are private, confidential, and operate at times that work for children and adolescents’ schedule
- Involve young people in the design of child- and adolescent-friendly mental health facilities
- Develop a set of children and adolescent mental health service standards to facilitate monitoring and evaluation
- Invest in training, supervision, and support programmes for healthcare workers at primary healthcare levels for them to screen and treat children with common mental health disorders and refer those who require more specialised care
- Scale up specialised training of child psychiatrists, child psychiatric nurses, psychologists, and social workers
- Establish provincial leadership and ringfenced budgets to drive the implementation of child and adolescent mental health services on the ground.
“We are calling on all those who care about young people’s mental health to sign our petition. We cannot afford to still be asking the same questions in 2043. The time to act is now,” the statement read.
For more information visit: https://ci.uct.ac.za/child-gauge/child-and-adolescent-mental-health