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More than a pass: The pressures of breaking the cycle of poverty

Clinical Psychologist Zamo Mbele says the pressures are not just limited to high school learners, but students at tertiary institutions are under immense pressure to perform well academically.

Picture: EWN

JOHANNESBURG – The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) says it expects the number of attempts at suicide to increase as pupils receive their end of year results.

Last week, two grade 11 pupils in Gauteng took their own lives when they learned that they had failed the grade.

A teenage boy from a high school in Ekangala was found by his mother hanging in the garage at his home while in another incident, an 18-year-old from Tiyelelani Secondary School in Soshanguve threw himself in front of a moving train.

Clinical psychologist and member of the Sadag board, Zamo Mbele, says that in black communities, relative deprivation translates to material sacrifices made by parents and guardians for children to be educated.

Mbele says that this leads to young people carrying the aspirations of the family on their shoulders, in addition to their own personal desire to succeed.

“In this regard, the idea that it takes a village to raise a child can be incredibly romantic, but at the same time we must take into account the burden that this child has – which is not just for themselves, but of the entire village. It must be weary to have the aspirations of an entire village on the shoulders of one child.”

The psychologist says that the pressures are not just limited to high school learners, but students at tertiary institutions are also under immense pressure to perform well academically.

In October, the availability of mental health support for tertiary students came under the spotlight when 19-year-old Wits students Kago Moeng plunged to her death after she jumped from the sixth floor of a building in Braamfontein.

Mbele says that as the pressure mounts, depression and anxiety set in.

“That’s when we find that through the early years, in high school and tertiary; specifically, in tertiary; that this burden becomes too much. That’s when suicide becomes more of an option than saying ‘I just can’t do it.’”

LISTEN: Student depression

SUPPORT TO STRUGGLING PUPILS

Reacting to news of the recent learner suicides, the Department of Education in Gauteng has urged learners not to consider ending their lives when they do not succeed in their studies.

Departmental spokesperson Steve Mabona says pupils have the option of using the various academic support programmes set up by the department to help advance to the next grade.

At the same time, MEC Panyaza Lesufi says parents should closely monitor children for signs of suicidal thoughts.

He says there are resources available to troubled pupils.

“We have a permanent agreement with Lovelife and Childline. These are experts who deal with problems and I would urge parents to get help from them.”

LISTEN: Depression and anxiety, signs to look out for

BREAKING THE CYCLE OF POVERTY: BLACK TAX

While the conversation around "black tax" and what it truly means has become more popular, Mbele says that people need to start looking beyond the financial burden that may come with it and consider the psychological pressures that come with the responsibility.

He says that young black professionals often feel obliged to take on the financial responsibility to keep the family afloat, especially when obvious sacrifices have been made to ensure that the individual accesses opportunities through education.

“We don’t consider the financial burden or the cost that this might have on a person’s well being. This is not only the tension that they must have in order to keep a job even when they are struggling or don’t even want that job."

LISTEN: 'Black Tax' explained

Mbele says that looking at the concept of relative deprivation generally means that when there are fewer resources, there is more pressure to share and make what little there is to go around.

“Sometimes this little is financial, though, it is sometimes occasionally accompanied by an emotional ‘little’ that goes around, and the young black professional often times has to face the burden of sharing of themselves in a way that can leave them with almost nothing for themselves.”

He says that there is still not enough being done to support the young black person coming into the educational and professional environments.

Mbele says additional pressures come from social media platforms, where hashtags such as the #BlackExcellence are meant to encourage success but could have the adverse effect on struggling individuals who may take it to mean that "good enough is not acceptable".

He says while there is a lot of work to be done, he believes there are great strides being made in addressing mental health issues and that more focus should also be placed on mental illnesses.

Additional reporting by Koketso Motau.

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