How Youth Unemployment in Eswatini Is Impacting Young Swazis' Mental Health

March 04, 2021

How Youth Unemployment in Eswatini Is Impacting Young Swazis' Mental Health

One of the main challenges that Swazis in Eswatini encounter is a cycle of poverty. In this small kingdom in southern Africa, poverty plagues generation after generation, and various reasons contribute to it. 

Sometimes, it's severe droughts that leave farmers without any means of making money. Other times, it's a lack of schooling that prevents Swazis from getting the skills they need to earn great jobs. But regardless of the reason, the root issue is always the same: unemployment. 

Without jobs, Swazis can't make any money. And in Eswatini, there are few job opportunities and even fewer high-paying ones. As one may expect, this pitfall has significant consequences on the adults in Eswatini. 

A lack of income typically convinces parents to leave their children behind. And Swazis with HIV/AIDS live short lives because they don't have the money to buy the life-saving medication they need. These outcomes then lead to even bigger issues, like an orphan crisis and HIV/AIDS epidemic, which Eswatini is experiencing at a higher rate than other countries. 

However, a lesser-known consequence of unemployment in Eswatini is poor mental health, especially among the youth. New research suggests that youth unemployment in Eswatini has significant effects on Swazis' mental wellbeing, and the first step to getting the situation under control is generating awareness around what's going on. 


The research on youth unemployment in Eswatini

Mental health centers on someone's psychological, emotional, and social wellbeing. The state of someone's mental health impacts how they think, feel, and act—and it determines how they deal with stress, what healthy choices they make, and how they relate to others. 

Regardless of whether someone's a child, adolescent, or adult, mental health is important. It plays a critical role in every stage of life. And when someone's mental health isn't up to par, it can lead to depression and various health issues, including stroke, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes.

Unfortunately, youth unemployment in Eswatini could quickly make the consequences of poor mental health a reality for Swazis. A new study suggests that multiple regions throughout the kingdom have high rates of mental health cases, with the Shiselweni region leading at 63 percent. 

Most of these mental health patients in Eswatini are youth, with 1,126 of them falling between 20-29 years old and 924 of them being 30-35 years old. Additionally, the research indicates that out of every age group, the youth (18-35) accounts for 53 percent of all mental health cases. 

These high numbers are a result of youth unemployment in Eswatini, and 57 percent of participants blame the lack of job opportunities. Most respondents said it's challenging to find work in Eswatini and that school is inadequate at leading them toward a better future. 

They believe school pushes them towards white-collar jobs, even though Eswatini has few of these economic opportunities available. Moreover, the participants don't believe they have the entrepreneurial and vocational skills to take another route and become successful business owners. 

Other causes for youth unemployment in Eswatini are attributed to an absence of inspiring role models and little desire to take available jobs that are laborious and low-paying. When faced with an undesirable job opportunity, the young Swazis in Eswatini would rather sit at home or find another way to make quick money. 

The link between youth unemployment and mental health

Youth unemployment in Eswatini is having a visible impact on young people's mental health. In fact, the study offers three ways in which unemployment is affecting young Swazis' mental wellbeing. 

  1. Substance abuse 

When someone is unemployed, that person has a lot of time on their hands. According to the study's findings, 35 percent of participants said that idleness is a significant component of an "unemployed youth's daily activity." 

But what makes the situation worse is how long unemployment lasts. Fifty-one percent of respondents said that unemployment for most young people in Eswatini lasts for more than two years. This statistic means the youth has ample opportunities to engage in negative conduct. 

The study indicates that most young Swazis engage in drug abuse, deviant behavior, crime, and excessive drinking because of inactivity. Additionally, 44 percent of respondents said that young Swazis typically abuse alcohol or drugs—which affects their mental health—to cope with the stress of unemployment. 

  1. Lack of collective purpose 

The term "collective purpose" refers to feelings of usefulness in a community that's outside of one's family. In Eswatini, young Swazis feel a severe lack of collective purpose, leading to feelings of worthlessness and disappointment. One respondent even said, "Because I have nothing to do, I feel worthless. Imagine every day you wake up and play cards and just chill while others are moving forward. It's like you're useless."

In many communities, elders treat unemployed youth as deviants and nuisances to society. As a result, young people don't get the social support they need to persevere during their unemployment period. Even their employed peers, who know how challenging it is to find a job, look down on them. And the little support makes young people in Eswatini feel unvalued and hopeless, directly impacting their mental health. 

  1. Negative sense of identity 

The job someone has can play a significant role in defining their identity and social status, and that's true no matter where someone lives. Youth unemployment in Eswatini is making many young people feel like they have no social status or identity. 

When the researchers asked participants how unemployment affects young people, they said it leads to various "self-defeating" activities. Young Swazis even explained that they often feel worthless and self-empathetic and see little meaning in life, which are all signs of poor mental health. 

Unemployed youth tend to rely on their parents or guardians for basic things like underwear, food, and soap. And to young people in Eswatini, this dependency strips away their dignity. They even consider it shameful that they have to live off their parents after they've completed school, especially since they know how challenging it is for their parents to get money. 

This shame sometimes manifests into anger and retaliation because young Swazis find themselves in a position they never wanted to be in. The youth in Eswatini don't want people to blame them for the situation they're in because they've always had goals. They've just never had the resources or opportunities to pursue them. 

Decreasing youth unemployment in Eswatini

When considering how youth unemployment in Eswatini is impacting mental health, it's normal to jump to action and help in any way possible. However, while this is necessary, the first way to help young people in Eswatini is to stop and listen.

A researcher who conducted the study explained that, more than anything, the youth in Eswatini want to be heard. Instead of watching people talk about ways to help them, young Swazis want to be a part of the conversation. 

They have many solutions to the problems they're facing. They just need an audience who will listen to them. And at Khutsala Artisans, a Heart for Africa initiative, our primary purpose is to support orphaned and vulnerable children in Eswatini and offer employment opportunities to Swazis. 

We lovingly and willingly listen to the needs of young Swazis so that we can help decrease youth unemployment in Eswatini. But we hope that others will join us in uplifting young Swazis' voices so that the youth enhance their mental health and end the cycle of poverty. 

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