On a fresh afternoon in March, surrounded by colourful vineyards in their autumnal regalia, the singers of VOX Cape Town gathered for a community concert in the spirit of advocating for child and adolescent mental health, building networks and strengthening connections. We joined other musical groups from around the Mother City in a benefit concert, in which we also gave the first performance of a specially-commissioned work by Kristi Boonzaaier, based on texts written by adolescent health care users, called Find the Light.

The afternoon’s programme was opened by the Commissioner for Children, Ms Christina Nomdoe, and comprised an eclectic mix of items by local ensembles of which clinicians/mental health providers and health sciences faculty academics are members. There were also a few short solo items by clinicians and an item by a music therapist in collaboration with teen users of mental health services. In addition to VOX, participating ensembles and musicians included the Hugo Lambrechts Senior Wind Band and the UCT Health Sciences Orchestra. Dr Marc Hendricks, Dr Angus Fletcher and Michael Smith provided solo items.

Besides Kristi’s new work, and continuing the theme of light and hope, VOX sang Of Light by Grant McLachlan (accompanied by the composer) and Even When He Is Silent by Kim André Arnesen. A special closing song was presented at the end, in which all the performers and even the audience were encouraged to sing! We are delighted that one of our singers, Kirsten Rowe, was part of the team spearheading this project.

The Spring Foundation at Lentegeur Hospital (“Finding hope for recovery through reconnection”) is a registered non-profit organisation that is using a range of psychosocial rehabilitation and outreach projects to re-establish a sense of hope and recovery through reconnection to the natural world and to community, identity and heritage.

Read more about the performance on p. 27 of the UCT Department of Psychiatry and Mental Health Newsletter Issue 17 (June 2023).

Mental illness makes up the largest contribution to the aggregate burden of Years Lived with Disability (23%) in comparison to any other disease category. It has been estimated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that 60% of all people attending primary health care clinics suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. Individuals have a 30% lifetime prevalence for any mental disorder, with 50% of all mental illness starting before the age of 14 years.

Worldwide, resource allocation to mental health care is limited, with little parity to other health programmes within the primary care platform. In South Africa, children and adolescents fail to access mental health care equal to adult users. This impacts detrimentally on mental health outcomes, increases cost of treatment at later presentation, obstructs potential for prevention programmes and increases the burden of adult mental health pathology. In this regard a Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CAMH) Strengthening Project has been implemented in the Western Cape province, with a pilot project in one of the metro districts.