October 4, 2021 admin

How can we address the next pandemic: children’s mental health?

The restrictive nature of the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to an ongoing global epidemic in children’s mental health. Very high levels of anxiety and stress in children need to be addressed now to avoid more serious long-term impacts in our futures. Using scalable digital resources to support children’s psychological well-being is part of the solution – and to mark World Mental Health Day, we are releasing free meditation audio tracks for children across South Africa.

Deaths, economic and housing instability and disruptions  to school routines are just some of the destabilizing aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic for children. Such impacts will, experts warn,  result in society ‘grappling with the after-effects for decades to come.’ Research by child psychiatry experts has found that children – especially those in economically underprivileged contexts – are suffering very high levels of uncertainty, stress and anxiety due to lockdowns and quarantines. The research points to an urgent need for mental health services – specifically ‘tele mental health,’ provided in scalable, digital formats –  which would be particularly crucial for the ‘most vulnerable and underprivileged section of the society’. In line with this, and to mark World Mental Health Day on 10 October 2021, The Earthchild Project will be releasing a series of free guided audio meditations for children, called  Take Five. Through these specially-created meditations – in English, Afrikaans and Xhosa – we hope to encourage the decisive and large-scale action needed to transform the lives of our youngest generation.

The pandemic and child mental health in South Africa

Earlier this year, UNICEF stated that the ripple effects of the COVID-19 pandemic will be most damaging for ‘children in the poorest countries, and in the poorest neighbourhoods.’ This is serious for a developing economy like South Africa. Indeed, research found  that 72% of young people in South Africa reported depressive symptoms during the ‘hard lockdown’ – a figure that is drastically higher than pre-pandemic levels. 

It is of critical importance that these symptoms are addressed now. Children who  experience trauma or stress are at risk of suffering lifelong mental health challenges later in life if the issues are not addressed  early on. 

Reality on the ground: Lavender Hill and Khayelitsha 

The Earthchild Project, which runs complimentary education to under-resourced schools across Cape Town,  has experienced this devastation on the ground.  Our staff have witnessed a marked increase in trauma and stress levels of the children in our programmes since the start of the pandemic. 

In Khayelitsha and Lavender Hill schools – where we have run programmes for 15 years –  the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic has heightened the vulnerability factors for children who already witness high levels of gang violence and other trauma. 

“In our current situation with the gang violence as a principal you need to think on your toes, so when there’s shooting, I breathe because I need to be the person that’s responsible for teachers. Our children know that they need to breathe and they need to stay calm and those are all the skills that we acquire from Earthchild.” Ms Charity – Principal at Levana Primary School.

We have measured the impact of routine meditation practises for children in these schools. It has proved to be a very simple and effective tool to help them to deal with anxiety, fear and trauma.

Every little helps: three meditations

Because these are economically underprivileged communities with limited infrastructure and access to the internet, there is a great need for low-cost resources that are able to close the digital divide, allowing equity of access for all children.

Schools and other NGOs in the education sector have expressed a desperate need for resources to support their learners with trauma, anxiety and fear.  In response to this, the Take5 Meditations are a series of three simple, guided audio meditations in three of South Africa’s local languages – Afrikaans, English and Xhosa. Each meditation can work in a group setting – meaning that teachers can conduct them in a classroom – or in an individual setting. Any child can practice them at home, at any time. They are free, and can easily be sent by WhatsApp or listened to on Youtube. 

Our hope is that the Take5 meditations will be used nationally and globally as a meaningful resource to counter the mental health challenges brought about by COVID-19. These tracks must form part of a wider spectrum of resources to support the mental health of our youngest generations – for the prospects of today’s youth, as well our collective global development. 

To access the Take5 Meditation, and the instruction audio track, see details. The audio tracks can be accessed through the Earthchild Project website www.earthchildproject.org , YouTube https://www.youtube.com/c/earthchildproject, and through a direct request via Whatsapp on +27 79 865 0002. The audio meditations are downloaded along with an instruction video on how to facilitate the Take 5 meditations.


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