MPhil in the spotlight

Trauma a major cause of mental health challenges among school learners

Mokolo Maponyane researched the experience of adolescent learners access to psychosocial support services in South Africa. She found that although South Africa has made great strides in improving the lives of all children since 1994 there remains a need for sustained and targeted Psychosocial Support Services (PSS). South Africa’s PSS programme at schools aims to address social problems such as violence, poverty, crime, substance abuse, high drop-out rates and teenage pregnancy that impedes teaching and learning. However, the interventions take a “one – size -fits – all” approach and is not designed to respond to specific problems at schools. In addition, she found that adolescents’ own views about PSS are rarely considered.

Mokolo’s study aimed to understand how Grade 8 -10 adolescent learners in Botshabelo Township, Free State experience PSS in their schools. She conducted interviews with 16 adolescents from two secondary schools. All of the participants had experienced trauma in their lives including the death of parents and other caregivers, rape, abuse as well as poverty. Participants in the study had been referred to PSS by teachers and school principals due to their behaviour at school. Often times caregivers requested the school make a referral and in some instances learners requested support themselves.

One participant said this: “It was after my grandma passed on; her passing away affected me a lot because she was someone that I loved and the only person that I trusted”.

Another participant said: “We could not understand why she is not buying food for us,” but after seeing the counsellor he said: “my mother was able to understand why we were fighting with her. She stopped misusing the money and started buying the things that we need”.

Her key finding was that PSS is of great importance and valued by adolescents and that they reported positive experiences of receiving PSS with some being referred on for psychiatric treatment. Several respondents reflected on the effect of PSS on their lives:

“The counsellor helped me, I used to share with her the painful feelings I had. By talking to her, I felt better; I was able to release my pain”.

The study proved that engagement of adolescents in the development of policies, strategies and programmes for PSS will provide insights on interventions relevant to them, based on their expressed needs and realities in order to make impact.


Access to ECD facilities could transform young women’s ability to transition into the labour market

Anthony Ambrose researched how access to Early Childhood Development facilities influences the experience of transitions to the labour market for young women caregivers.

Youth unemployment is a critical issue in South Africa. For young women in particular, who are more vulnerable to both unemployment and being not in education, employment or training (NEET) the future is often bleak. While the barriers that young people face as they either transition to work or study are complex, for young women the added burden of care that many have to carry compounds their difficulties, meaning that many are left behind and stuck in the cycle of poverty and unemployment.

Anthony’s research considered how young, female caregivers experience the transition to the labour market, and how access to Early Childhood Development (ECD) facilities might influence this transition experience. It is an important area to research since, despite widespread research on the youth unemployment challenge in South Africa, the research on the gendered nature of the transition to the labour market is limited.

Anthony interviewed 10 young women to get a deeper understanding of their perceptions and experiences on the burden of care and how access to ECD for their children might influence their  transitions to finding work or skills training opportunities.

Many of the participants explained the shame of being unemployed: “In black families – if you do not have a job or are unemployed, you are not considered a person. I was under pressure. I needed to look for a job. I needed to put something on the plate.”

While others highlight that they suffer from depression as a result of their situation, “Not having money. It is so hard being unemployed, especially when you look at your home situation. The other thing is you have a baby to provide [for], then sometimes or somewhere you end up having depression.”

Many mentioned the lack of support from fathers and that it is very challenging, “especially when sometimes you do not have a babysitter. He [the father] is there but always had plans and he does not include me or the baby in his plans.”

When asked about the role of childcare some said: “I have to make sure that I have someone to take care of my son while I am away. I have to make sure I have money to pay that person so they can take care of my child. I also have to make sure that I have money to look for a job every day. Sometimes you do not have that, and you do not even have enough to buy something for yourself. It becomes difficult for you to have money to pay someone to look after your child and have money to go around looking for work.”

The significant overarching findings are that young women face many of the same challenges as the young men, but also face additional challenges in accessing the labour market. The burden of care that they are expected to manage limits young women’s ability to pursue training and educational opportunities to further their careers and ambitions. This is compounded by the absence of men in the lives of their children. These issues combined can have detrimental effects on their mental health.

The significant implication of this research is that social policy approaches to addressing youth unemployment need to account for the additional care-related barriers that young women face and ensure that access to care support through mechanisms like ECD form part of a coordinated transition system strategy.


The distinct needs of unemployed rural youth

Dominique Claire Ralarala looked at the skills development and training needs of post-school unemployed rural youth in Khohlombeni and the role they play in enabling young people’s transitions to work.

It is well established that long periods of disengagement from education and the labour market contribute to long-term psychological scarring for young people. There are important differences in terms of the extent of disengagement between rural and urban youth. Rural youth are likely to be financially disadvantaged. This is compounded by the fact that many lack access to information about available jobs or work experience, which further disadvantages them.

Her research sought to address an academic and social gap in the literature on Not in Employment Education of Training (NEET) youth in rural areas and their skills and training needs. She used a qualitative research approach interviewing 10 young people.

The overarching findings that emerged  were firstly that youth in rural areas are vulnerable in dimensions of education, living conditions and their mental health among others. Secondly, factors associated with being NEET shape participants reasons for leaving school. Thirdly, although young people experience hopelessness about their dreams, they still show significant levels of agency in their livelihood creation strategies. Finally, in terms of their skills needs, young people may need to know the paths needed to meet their goals because these remain constrained by what is available to them.

The vast majority of the participants in the study had not completed their schooling because many struggled to get to school due the rural locations of their homes, others found it hard to complete their school work without the help of people at home. While others left because of the trauma they experienced.

“After a long time when something happened to me at home [referring to sexual abuse] I decided to tell my family. My father didn’t say it to me but I woke up in the morning and they [siblings] told me that I can’t live at home if I’m going to break the family. That’s why I stay with my aunt you see; she is my dad’s sister. Then I started not to like school or going with my friends. One day I just didn’t go back.”

“Yes, it did happen a long time ago but I did go out of school since it happened. Sometimes I tell myself that maybe if this [sexual abuse] never happened to me, maybe my chances in life could be different…because you see, I could believe in myself when I look at the mirror and maybe I could even try and do things well for myself like go to school and enjoy my life here.”

They also expressed distress in relation to “being forgotten”:

“I think they [government] know that we are not that educated here so they don’t see the need to have any programmes for the young people who live in the rural areas. It’s a waste of money because we didn’t finish school.”

The findings have two implications. The first is that there is evidence to show that youth in rural areas need a multifaceted approach to reconnect them to skills training and economic opportunities. Rather than training young people for a job placement outcome alone, skills training programmes should tap into young people’s existing capabilities and address how these are constrained by poverty and they also need to address trauma and related mental health concerns. The second is that evidence shows that youth employment programmes benefit young people in non-income areas of wellbeing. Focusing on youth experiences centres the voices and capabilities of young people.

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