Young people and mental health in sub-Saharan Africa.

  • Salvi, Francesca (PI)

Project Details


Although mental health is receiving considerable attention in the Global North, especially in relation to young people, the same cannot be said of the Global South. Ongoing social stigma means that mental illness is a hidden issue, yet one of the leading causes of days lived with disabilities. Children and young people make up a significant section of the population in sub-Saharan Africa, making mental health in young people a major challenge to health systems and a key priority for research. Moreover, lack of research and investment in addressing mental health issues impacts on the understanding of the issue in the African context and on the available avenues for care and support.
This dearth of research is being reverted, also thanks to the Sustainable Development Goals including a focus on mental health for the first time in 2015. Drawing on the voice of young people, this exploratory study aims to engage with how young people construct and deal with mental health and mental health issues in sub-Saharan Africa. More specifically, it explores the relationship between mental health, contexts (e.g. educational versus home) and stigma/bias in order to identify which factors can lead to social change. Broadly, this project aims to contribute to developing a renewed awareness over how mental health impacts upon young people’s lives. Specifically, a better understanding of issues such as mental health and wellbeing will lead to the development of effective evidence-informed policy solutions which will in turn lead to more inclusive and tolerant societies. This, in short, is our theory of change: by increasing visibility and recognising the agency of a more traditionally quietened section of the population – young people – we aim to counteract the stigma attached to mental health conditions affecting young people in the Global South.

In this project, we will focus on perceptions and practices regarding mental health and wellbeing in South Africa. The University of Cape Town has established a few centres that look at mental health in relation to young people: the Psychiatry and Mental Health Department has a Child and Adolescent psychiatry Division ( and an Adolescent Health Research Unit ( Through this proposed project, we wish to initiate networking with these centres and with The Africa Focus on Intervention Research for Mental Health (AFFIRM) - a research and capacity development hub, established in 6 countries: Ethiopia, Ghana, Malawi, South Africa, Uganda and Zimbabwe ( The collaboration is then used to carry out an initial pilot, the results of which will be directed towards joint external grant applications.
Effective start/end date1/08/1831/07/19


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