DEPRESSION – one of our biggest challenges
One of my niche areas for my life coaching is depression and it’s scary that it has become such a problem in this country, especially amongst young people. I read an article just yesterday that counseling services at South African universities have stepped up their interventions in the wake of an increase in suicides among university students. The South African Depression and Anxiety Support Group released these figures in early October 2018:
- 5% of teen suicide attempts required medical treatment;
- 6% of teens had considered attempting suicide;
- 1 in 4 university students had been diagnosed with depression;
- Over 20% of 18-year-olds had one or more suicide attempts;
- According to the WHO, half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age but most cases are undetected and untreated;
- Male youth die by suicide more than female youth;
- 1 in 6 teens are/will be addicted to cannabis.
These are horrific figures. I don’t even know where to start at unpacking them. More than one fifth of the teenagers of this country have attempted suicide and a quarter of university students have been diagnosed with depression! What is going on? It is very sad that so many people who are just starting out in life and should be filled with hope for the future, feel like ending it all. The challenges are numerous and complex – family issues, relationships, financial challenges, lack of support, substance abuse.
I have coached youth in their teens and early twenties who were battling depression and they were overwhelmed by a feeling of helplessness and despair. It is certainly not an easy time to be young and starting out in life in South Africa. Our education system is not geared to ready our youth for life, a tertiary education is too expensive for most and those who are fortunate enough to graduate are faced with bleak employment prospects. Added to that, our families and homes are by and large, not the bastion of security and stability they are traditionally regarded to be. Children learn to cope with life’s challenges by the lessons learnt early in life, by examples set by parents. When the latter are struggling themselves, the stage is set for disaster. Often, parents themselves are coping with a myriad of challenges and are unable to provide the foundation their children need.
I have ended up coaching entire families after working with just one of the children. Here is one great success: An 18 year old I coached made great strides but found that her home environment was dragging her down into old patterns of unhealthy dynamics. I met with her mother and found that she was also struggling with depression and anxiety. She was fortunately very open to coaching as well and after many sessions with her and the daughter, they were able to break out of old patterns and cope much better with challenges. The work done in the coaching empowered the mother to such an extent, that she was able to insist on certain rules and boundaries at home which she was helpless to do previously. This forced her husband into an ultimatum of seeking help as well and he came to see me. He then realized how his behavior had been enabling much of the unhealthy dynamics, even with his son. The latter joined the programme and was fortunate because many of his issues had a chance of being addressed early. Eventually that family was empowered sufficiently to address their challenges together effectively. I have mentioned this example because as a coach, it was very rewarding to accompany the family on their journey of change and healing, starting with the teenager and then addressing the other family members in a tenacious bid to get her the ongoing support she needed to bring about sustainable change.
Life throws us many challenges, some of them seemingly insurmountable, but ultimately the solution will not come from outside, but from within. The secret is not to succumb to feelings of helplessness, but to seek help.