Eastern Cape youth are suffering in silence as a way of dealing with stress, a recent study has revealed.
The study conducted by Dr Mzikazi Nduna of the School of Human and Community Development at Wits University “sought to explore the origins and responses to distress by young people given the reported high levels of psychological distress in SA youth.”
Nduna said that she worked a lot with young people especially on relationship issues, sexuality, sexual health and reproductive health.
“Part of what we are trying to do with this work is to encourage young people and their parents to open communication about issues that might be considered by some as sensitive and taboo. This study was motivated by this work and also reports from this region in particular that report on the alarming rates of suicide,” said Nduna.
She said that she hoped the study would contribute to the understanding of what distresses young people as to develop appropriate interventions and prevent the suicides and mental ill heath that is preventable.
Nduna said the study on depressive symptoms had data from 1002 females and 976 males. “The smaller, focused, in-depth study on silence had 24 females and 16 males,” she said.
The research paper entitled Silence: a strategy used to deal with psychological distress by young people in the Eastern Cape was recently published in the Vulnerable Children and Youth Studies journal. The study conducted in Butterworth included youth aged from 16 to 22 years. “Of the issues bothering youth, the participants listed poverty, financial hardships, orphanhood and undisclosed paternal identity as being among their main sources of distress.”
Nduna said that other issues such as academic failure, gender non-conformity, substance abuse and delinquency often caused conflict between the participants and their parents and guardians and led to mental distress.
“According to the participants, they were unable to communicate within the family unit about their feelings due to their cultural background, which encourages the suppression of ‘possible explosive emotions and difficult questions’ and regards silence as a virtue.”
Nduna added: “Constant analysis of respondents’ answers as to why they chose to be silent on issues that bring them discomfort showed that there is an underlying meaning to non-expression of distress and it served to fulfil distinct but related purposes”.
She said, firstly, silence was a strategy for containing a potentially explosive or hurtful situation. Secondly, it was used to show gratitude for accrued benefits such as a parent’s or guardian’s generosity and thirdly, it was maintained as a sign of deference.
“It was not a choice that participants made but rather they were conforming to standards of respect as set by their society. Lastly, silence was used to protect, in particular, their mothers from distress,” she said.
“This study suggests that young people need to be empowered.”