Social Media a Factor in “mental health issues” Among South Africa’s Youth: Pastoral Agent

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Regular access to social media forums is a factor in mental health challenges among the youth in South Africa’s Ennerdale Parish of the Catholic Archdiocese of Johannesburg, the pastoral agent for the Mental Health Ministry (MHM) has said.

In an interview with ACI Africa, Chester Brown who is the MHM agent at All Saints Ennerdale Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of Johannesburg said, “Every time I meet with young people to address youth matters, social media always comes up.”

“Societal pressures, fashion concerns and social media always come up during our discussions with the youngsters. They are left alone with those devices,” Mr. Brown reiterated, adding that the interactions young people have on social media forums “lead to a myriad of questions and insecurities”.

Young people, the pastoral agent in South Africa said during the Monday, August 29 interview, “see how other youngsters look and own expensive items, and they don't have these things … they feel they are not as fortunate or not as beautiful. When they look at youngsters out there, they compare themselves to them and question why they are not like that?”

“The social pressures that go on with this kind of behavior or thought patterns often lead to cases of mental health issues,” Mr. Brown who is affiliated to the Salesians of Don Bosco (SDB) told ACI Africa.


A study by South African Scholars indicates that the COVID-19 pandemic escalated cases of mental health challenges among children and adolescents in the country. In partnership with the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers, the Catholic Health Care Association of Southern Africa (CATHCA) is running a yearlong project to develop MHM in parishes.

In the August 29 interview, Mr. Brown called on parents to monitor their children, regretting the fact that children are often left alone “with the tablets and smartphones and television to babysit them.”

He called upon parents to “listen to their children, to spend time with their children and communicate with them. Although most parents spend long hours at work it's very important to communicate with their children.”

Despite progress in some countries, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that people with mental health conditions often experience discrimination and stigma.

“We try as much as possible to engage with youth about the reality of mental health; in most cases they don’t open immediately, but after some consecutive sharing sessions they start to share. The stigma is mainly among adults”, Mr. Brown told ACI Africa. 

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In a separate interview with the CATHCA skills development Coordinator, initiatives towards fostering MHM in Parishes in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg were highlighted.

 “Two Catholic Parishes in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg, namely All Saints in Ennerdale and Our Lady of Mercy in Emdeni have launched the Parish Mental Health Ministry,” Dr. Shula Melese told ACI Africa during the Tuesday, August 30 interview.

Dr. Melese added, “We chose these two Parishes as a pilot with the aim to expand the ministry in the Archdiocese of Johannesburg. The next step will be to extend the ministry in the Episcopal Conference.”

He continued, “The aim of the ministry is to increase awareness of mental health issues, reduce stigma and discrimination against those living with mental illness, to provide spiritual accompaniment and support for people living with mental illness, and to welcome people with mental illness into the sacramental and communal life of the Church.”

“As per the request of Bishop Victor Phalana, we will implement the ministry in 4 parishes in Klerksdorp Diocese in 2023”, he said in reference to the Local Ordinary of the South African Catholic Diocese.


Sheila Pires is a veteran radio and television Mozambican journalist based in South Africa. She studied communications at the University of South Africa. She is passionate about writing on the works of the Church through Catholic journalism.