By Kusile Mtunzi-Hairwadzi
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa – 25th AUGUST 2021, –/ Centre for African Journalists (CAJ News) – The Covid-19 pandemic has cut a path of destruction through societies and communities, impacting the mental health and wellbeing of people, including the youth.
Access to technology and digital support and solutions, in partnership with health providers, has become crucial to help address many of these often overlooked, and even stigmatised, challenges besetting society today. This comes as evidence begins to mount of the negative effect of the pandemic on the mental health of not just young people, but also younger adolescents and adults.
The reality is children of all ages have been faced with unprecedented tragedies during the past 18 months. They have had to endure the unexpected and untimely death of loved ones or be exposed to death of those they know or are close to.
In addition to that anxiety, the ongoing stress caused by prolonged and strict isolation, minimal interaction with friends, peer groups and access to playgrounds and sport, have all compounded the problem.
Families, in turn, have been separated from each other for months on end, while learners at rural schools have been left without access to basic tools to stay in touch with their academic programmes. The slow economic conditions have also negatively affected matric learners and university graduates, who are not only stressed out, but also increasingly worried about finding employment.
The result is that the mental health of millions of children worldwide has been put at risk. UNICEF says some children are at greater risk of developing intense reactions, including severe anxiety, depression, and suicidal tendencies.
Any pre-existing mental health problem, past traumatic experiences or abuse, family instability, or losing a loved one can make children highly vulnerable to developing severe mental health conditions.
Sensitivity: MTN South Africa – Internal
According to an academic study in the National Library of Medicine and PubMed, the nationwide closures of schools and colleges have negatively impacted over 91% of the world’s student population.
The South African Depression and Suicide Group (SADAG) has been at the forefront of trying to help adults and children cope and recover. but its resources were placed under severe strain after calls for help more than doubled from 600 a day to over 1,500.
The number of calls it receives continue to grow – in one day last week they fielded over 5,000 WhatsApp messages. It is not just the pandemic causing anxiety, but the recent wave of unrest and violence which swept across SA.
SADAG contacted MTN to see if we could assist in the provision of smart phones and data connectivity for their Crisis Helplines, especially as the third wave struck and led to children again being forced into lockdown. With children and youth development being at the core of MTN Foundation’s numerous programmes, we were extremely concerned to hear how over the past year SADAG has seen a spike in the number of youths seeking help and guidance.
We immediately jumped in to provide the data and smart phones they needed across their various offices countrywide. SADAG’s counsellors attend to callers throughout the country and help them to access resources for treatment, medication, care, support, and resources such as shelters, feeding schemes, and places of safety.
The support goes further than just mental wellbeing, but uplifts societies and communities too. The contribution of the MTN SA Foundation will provide much needed connectivity and digital tools to access online services. In doing so, this will
help helping broaden the network of support by assisting parents, teachers, caregivers, and children to cope and with current situation.
The youth are our future and MTN SA Foundation has a long-standing history of supporting the youth and women through education and entrepreneurship programmes, all using digital tools. We are proud to partner with SADAG in such an
important cause and plan to grow our collaboration into the future.
Internally MTN is also focusing on our own staff’s mental wellbeing. Our focus for July was Mental Wellbeing and our approach has been to rely on the power of Ubuntu to guide people’s thinking about how we are responsible for the health and wellbeing of Sensitivity: MTN South Africa – Internal ourselves and others.
Through the emphasis on humanity and oneness, we continue to raise awareness about mental health difficulties worldwide and mobilise efforts to support mental wellbeing.
We see it as equally important to address the stigma attached to mental illness and stress and to encourage our people to not be afraid to seek help and counsel to deal with their challenges. We care and are here to help.
It is imperative that awareness is raised about the problem. For instance, the Library of Medicine report says home confinement of children and adolescents has been associated with uncertainty and anxiety which is attributable to disruption in their education, physical activities, and opportunities for socialisation.
Absence of a structured setting of schools for a long duration result in disruption in routine, boredom, and lack of innovative ideas for engaging in various academic and extracurricular activities.
Some children have expressed lower levels of affect for not being able to play outdoors, not meeting friends and not engaging in the in-person school activities. These children have become clingier, attention seeking and more dependent on their parents due to the long-term shift in their routine.
One of the preliminary studies during the ongoing pandemic found younger children (3-6years old) were more likely to manifest symptoms of clinginess and the fear of family members being infected than older children (6-18 years old). Whereas the
older children were more likely to experience inattention and were persistently inquiring regarding COVID-19, although, severe psychological conditions of increased irritability, inattention and clinging behaviour were revealed by all children irrespective of their age groups
Asking for help and realising they are not the only ones going through these morbid emotions will therefore assist children to receive the right assistance. We believe that seeking help to cope with depression and anxiety is a positive step, and MTN Foundation is therefore stepping up to play a larger role in this space and calls on all corporate citizens to the same.
In these challenging times, we want to contribute to creating an environment of positivity in different social spaces.
Distributed by Centre for African Journalists (CAJ News) on behalf of MTN.
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Leigh-Ann Chetty, Senior Manager: Public Relations, MTN SA
Cell: 083 209 1310
Mthokozisi Ndlovu, Manager: Communications and Public Relations, MTN SA
Cell: 083 209 2683
About the MTN Group
Launched in 1994, the MTN Group is a leading emerging market operator with a clear vision to lead the delivery of a bold new digital world to our customers. We are inspired by our belief that everyone deserves the benefits of a modern connected life.
The MTN Group is listed on the JSE Securities Exchange in South Africa under the share code ‘MTN’. Our strategy, Ambition 2025, is anchored on building the largest and most valuable platform business, with a clear focus on Africa. www.mtn.com
NB: Kusile Mtunzi-Hairwadzi is General Manager of the MTN SA Foundation.
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