July 15, 2024

As we reflect on Youth Month, and the immense value of our nation’s young people, it is also important to be aware of the challenges and experiences that are unique to them. One of these is adolescence, a pivotal phase that all young people must navigate.

Adolescence is a transitional period; it heralds the transition from childhood to adulthood. It is also a highly challenging time, precisely because it straddles these two life stages.

“Thinking of adolescence, one can imagine someone balancing with their feet in two separate canoes on unsteady waters,” says clinical psychologist Ruvé Esterhuysen, “One canoe represents childhood, the other adulthood, as the person navigates the sometimes stormy waters of life.

“For adolescents, this phase of their lives can feel like they have a foot in two worlds without fully belonging to either,” says Esterhuysen. “Practically, it can be a time of significant mental health challenges.”


UNICEF South Africa data indicates that 60% of youth felt that they needed mental health support in 2022–2023. Meanwhile, Life Healthcare reports that suicide risk is a top driver of high-risk case management for the teenage age group.

For adolescents, these stress factors come amidst a range of psychological tasks that must
be accomplished as they mature. They must:
1) Develop their own identity
2) Nurture a sense of belonging to various groups
3) Form meaningful relationships
4) Become more independent


“All of these developmental tasks must be achieved while navigating those unsteady waters of life,” says Esterhuysen. “Destabilising crosscurrents occur thanks to the hormones accompanying puberty; peer pressure; social media; academic pressure; family relationships; friendships, romantic relationships, and many other complexities.”

These complexities mean that adolescence is also a time of serious behavioural risks. These include increased risk of drug use; violence; and high-risk sexual behaviour. This makes it incredibly important for adolescents to know that they have support—from mentors, educators, parents, and guardians, as well as healthcare professionals.

Parents can support adolescents by setting boundaries. If the adolescent is exploring more impulsive, risky, or unsafe behaviours, then firmer boundaries may need to be set. If the adolescent is acting responsibly and independently, parents can consider giving them more freedom within reasonable bounds.

The key, says Esterhuysen, is helping young people find balance in their lives. A basic element of this is self-care. She offers the following self-care tips for adolescents:
 Take good care of your physical health (sleep, nutrition, exercise, and hygiene)
 Take good care of your mental health (music, hobbies, talking to someone who can
support you, attending therapy)
 Set healthy boundaries in relationships – know when to say NO
 Practise healthy boundaries with your phone and social media
 Follow a daily routine
 Ask for help if you’re struggling
 Find a healthy balance between all aspects of life – schoolwork, friends, family, rest, etc.

If an adolescent is having difficulty but does not feel comfortable sharing with their parents, it is a good idea to seek professional help from a psychologist or psychiatrist. Parents can teach their teens that asking for help is a sign of strength.

Professional mental health support is available from Life Mental Health, a leading provider of private psychiatric services in South Africa, offering acute mental healthcare with a 498-bed capacity in a caring environment at nine facilities in Gauteng, the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Western Cape.

Multidisciplinary teams offer treatment for optimal outcomes through the short-term treatment of mental illness and disorders.

If you recognise signs of depression or mental illness in an adolescent person close to you, or you have a loved one who might need psychiatric help, visit Life Mental Health for an admission guide, emergency advice, and other resources.

Adolescence is an exciting time of life, but it’s not always easy. Fortunately, there is help available, through professionals and loved ones, to help achieve the fascinating balance that makes life so rewarding.

Submitted: Ogilvy PR

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