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Zulaikha Patel takes up struggle for mental health

Teen activist reveals how she overcame her issues

Masego Seemela Online journalist
Zulaikha Patel opens up about her mental health issues.
Zulaikha Patel opens up about her mental health issues.
Image: Supplied.

Anti-racism and social justice activist Zulaikha Patel is lending her voice to help tackle mental health issues facing the youth by telling her own story.

Patel is among South African public figures who are part of Nescafe Classic’s Made Strong campaign which acknowledges and celebrates how people overcome adversaries by coming out of their challenges much stronger.  

At just 13, Patel sprang into national stardom by default when she was among pupils who spearheaded protest against discrimination of black hair at Pretoria Girls’ High School  in 2016.

The school's hair policy had disregarded certain aspects about haircare by black pupils. And Patel, spotting a huge Afro, became the face of the protest which captured the imagination of the nation.

Six years later and now 19, Patel wants young people battling mental health to know they are not alone and that seeking professional help isn’t something to be ashamed of.  

She said despite her seemingly strong personality, she battled mental issues most of her high school years. 

“I would often feel as if I wasn’t doing my best or I wasn’t good enough. So, I made a conscious decision then to rather focus on the good that I was doing instead of thinking about myself in a negative light,” Patel said.

Image: Supplied.

“Being a young person at the forefront of activism and having almost an entire world as a responsibility as well as being their voice with a lot of pressure. I had to slow down and take take care of my mental health.

“I decided to speak to a professional who helped me deal with the issues I was facing. In speaking out and seeking help I was able to be guided in the right direction.”  

Patel is also focused in her vision and mission to help bring change to the future of SA youth and the African continent at large.

She hopes her efforts for equality and social justice don’t fall on deaf ears.

She added that fighting against her school’s hair policy helped lay a strong foundation for her activism.

“The journey and fight doesn’t stop. For instance, it is evident that there is a lack of tertiary funds for the youth of SA, this leads to a high rate of depression, [a serious]  mental health issue in society. There is also a high level of unemployment in the country and growing frustrations among the youth.

“Access to basic education is also another factor that affects young people. The government needs to find ways and means to provide these to curb the rate of mental health issues in the country."     

Patel's future plans are to study law, majoring in constitutional and criminal law, which will be in line with her activism work. She aspires to become an advocate.

She has a second book in the pipeline and hopes to one day direct her own biopic.    

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