Moving beyond a mere awareness of SA’s mental health crisis – social worker Noluthando Moyana

Earlier this week, Afrika Tikkun Services released a statement highlighting the severity of the mental health crisis facing South Africa’s youth. The statement indicated: “Young people are hungry for hope. They are starved for vision and a guiding hand to show them how to prosper.” In order to find out more about the distressing state of mental health in SA, BizNews spoke to Noluthando Moyana, a social worker at Afrika Tikkun Services. While the picture of dejected, dispirited youths painted by Moyana was disheartening, what resonated more was that there are institutions like Afrika Tikkun Services which take responsibility for children as young as 3 years old in order to guide them towards a better life. Moyana also stressed the importance of going further than merely creating awareness around mental health and that conversations around the issue are critical. – Nadya Swart

Noluthando Moyana on Afrika Tikkun Services’ role

We support children from the age of three with educational support, food and clothes. But also psychosocial support for them to grow well, as well as having life skills on the side. And then when they complete their matric, they come to ATS, which is Afrika Tikkun Services, that is from 18 up until 34. So it’s basically about empowering them with work skills, work readiness. But also initially, what we do is assess all of them. Let’s say we assess Noluthando. What are Noluthando’s strengths? Is she good in terms of handwork? Is she good academically? Then we’ll place them in terms of their strengths. 

So, we’re constantly there to guide them, but also to provide support. We have a social worker on site, but we also have a life coach that can assist them to say, ‘Life is like this, what are your needs at this point, what are the things within your control?’ We focus on cognitive behavioural therapy. It looks at being the master of your mind – what you’re consumed by in your mind has an impact on your behaviour.’ 

Noluthando Moyana

On the pressure experienced by young men in SA

A lot of young men that come to the centre come on the verge of wanting to commit suicide. They will speak about how they were socialised as boys without there ever having been a platform to talk about their feelings. They explain how, because of that, there’s an expectation that they should be strong, an expectation that they should deliver. Then, when they reach their mid-twenties, there’s always pressure at home where, as young boys, they are required to be the head of the family. Then there’s societal pressure as well.

So, that sense of identity crisis becomes a major challenge which now leads to mental illness. And again, we look at the reality of safe spaces for men – where are they? Few organisations will tell you that they are working with men, but the majority of them are just creating awareness about mental health, opening the can. But after creating awareness, where do you go for containment? It is a crisis in that way because now we’ve seen alcoholism increasing in our spaces, with the young people we engage with. When you sort of look into the root cause, it’s mental health. Attempting to commit suicide, what is the root cause? It’s mental health. 

On going further than simply creating awareness of mental health

At Afrika Tikkun, we even have what we call a wellness desk, whereby literally every week we change to say, ‘let’s talk about different aspects of mental health’. What is depression? What is this mental health on its own? It’s emotional, it’s psychological. It’s social well-being. So, we encourage self-reflection. We encourage, you know, that constant conversation with self. Because I always say to them, you know, ‘you talk to yourself more than you talk to anyone and how powerful is your mind?’ I might not be able to read your mind, but your behaviour will show me what you are consumed by in terms of your mental health. 

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