With child abductions, gang violence and rampant substance use making the news on a regular basis, community organisations are calling for attention to be paid to the mental health of younger generations.

“Not only do many children experience abuse and violence directly in their homes and communities, but they are also exposed to trauma through the loss of friends and fellow school students,” says Judy Strickland, founder of nonprofit organisation Hope House Counselling Centre. “Too few children have access to counselling services, where they can speak about and process their experiences, fears and concerns.”

The fallout of exposure to violence, abuse, loss and drug use can include impaired educational development, high levels of school drop-out rates and a greater risk of the development of mental disorders such as anxiety and depression.

More community-based counsellors are needed, particularly within schools, says Strickland; “Children are very vulnerable to feelings of anxiety, sadness, anger and confusion – many feel powerless to express or address this. They can benefit hugely from the support that a counsellor can provide.”

Mental Healthcare policy in South Africa has acknowledged the need for more community-based counsellors, particularly within schools, but the system remains under-resourced. “Counselling children requires a real commitment and an understanding of creative forms of therapy, such as play and narrative work, as well as experience working within local communities,” says Strickland. Research conducted by the Child Guidance Clinic at the University of Cape Town recently showed that too little is being done to understand the extent or effective treatment of mental illness and distress in South Africa, with a dearth of studies on effective treatments for young people. Current statistics suggest that 16% of South Africans experience anxiety disorders, 13% report substance abuse and 10% experience depression – the number of children who make up this number is unknown.

Hope House Counselling Centre has been offering donation-based counselling services to the Cape Town community for 15 years. Through three centres in Bergvliet, Kuils River and Blaauwberg as well as in schools across the city, Hope House’s counsellors see people from as young as three years of age.. Parents or children who are looking for counselling services can contact Hope House – visit www.hopehouse.org.za. to find the number of your closest centre