Positively impacting wellbeing

At 5th Place we support the physical, psychlogical and emotional wellbeing of people by enabling them to regulate how they feel on a scale to match the size of the problem.

Positively impacting mental health & building emotional fitness

At 5th Place we support the physical and emotional wellbeing of people by enabling them to regulate how they feel on a scale to match the size of the problem.

Regulating emotions leads to better mental health

At 5th Place we offer specialised training for individuals, groups and organisations on how to become and remain mentally healthy and emotionally fit, by teaching people how to regulate their emotions.

There are numerous studies detailing how regulating our emotions can lead to better mental health. To date many thousands of individuals from all over the globe have attested to the effectiveness of our programmes.

Since emotional regulation is the critical issue in managing the effects of trauma and neglect, it would make an enormous difference if teachers, army sergeants, foster parents, and mental health professionals were thoroughly schooled in emotional-regulation techniques.
—Bessel van der Kolk

The size of the problem, at home

South Africa has the lowest mental health score in the world as well as the highest percentage of distressed or struggling individuals [1]

South Africa’s mental health system is in disarray. Historical inequalities, high unemployment rates and poverty on the one side and a shrinking economy, a collapsing infrastructure, corruption and crime on the other are a breeding ground for a ballooning mental health care crisis. Mental health conditions cost the South African economy more than 11 billion U.S. dollars a year (200 billion rand) through people missing work and presenteeism [2].

In 2017 there were over 17 million diagnosed anxiety disorders out of a population of nearly 58 million [3] and a generous statistic of 23 psychologists for every 100,000 people [4].

In 2021 60% of South African companies experienced an increase in disability claims for mental and behavioural medical conditions. [5]

The scale of the problem is such that traditional one-on-one therapy, even if there was budget, can never attend to the overwhelming need.

Setting out on a journey

Education is a high value issue for both Chantal and Matthew. Our repeated offers of therapeutic support into the under-resourced school space where we were working were welcomed but not engaged with. And so in early 2017 we set out on a journey to solve a problem, one primarily involving the rampant trauma we were witnessing in the under-resourced school environ.

These schools are at the centre of communities where most people live in extreme poverty. In 2022 around 18.2 million people in South Africa live at a poverty threshold of 1.90 U.S. dollars per day [6]. Unemployment, physical violence, sexual abuse and neglect are realities for many.

School learners and university students from these environments suffer high levels of anxiety and stress caused by factors out of their control. They come to school in a perpetual state of fight / flight / freeze. You might already know this but the fight / flight / freeze response disconnects the brain from the ability to think and the capacity to learn is greatly diminished.

Education, widely accepted as crucial to escape the poverty cycle is negated if learners and students are in a perpetual state of fight / flight / freeze. The problem of education as we viewed it, was not so much a resource one as it was a mental health one.

Three goals

In response to this mental and emotional health crisis, we set out to see if we could solve the problem, having no idea if what we wanted to do was even possible. We set ourselves three goals:

Develop something that was able to be used with children as well as adults. Children process emotions differently to adults, they don’t have the ability to rationalise their emotions and don’t always have much of an emotional vocabulary. Many of our personal problems and issues have their origins in childhood. It made sense to consider addressing these problems at their root cause.

Create something that could be used in groups. This is particularly relevant because of the scale of the problem being faced. Affordable access to qualified professionals is a challenge in and of itself. And even if access was free, there are still not enough qualified people to assist and make a meaningful dent in the problem. Matthew was an Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) practitioner of 11 years in 2017. EFT is very effective at dealing with trauma [7], however our experience with EFT was that it’s primarily a one-to-one intervention and is more adult oriented. There was not enough time nor money to do this work one-on-one. We needed to do it in groups, and children at school show up in groups, in class.

Create an African solution for an African problem. We didn’t want to transplant something from elsewhere into this continent with its rich tapestry of people. Africa is a traumatised continent having suffered slavery, colonialism, wars, despotic leaders, civil unrest, and famine. Closer to home, the legacy of segregation and Apartheid still lingers and looms across South Africa. The solution needed to be proudly South African and African, to tackle and solve the specific individual, collective and generational trauma problems experienced both locally and on the continent at large.

What we learnt on our journey

On our journey we learnt a great deal about emotions and how tenuous our emotional well being actually is. We learnt the importance of emotional resilience, what we term “emotional fitness”, how big the problem of mental and emotional health actually is in our country and globally and the taboo that exists around it that prevents individuals from seeking help, receiving help and feeling free to say how they are really feeling.


  1. “Mental State of the World - Sapien Labs.” https://sapienlabs.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/Mental-State-of-the-World-Report-2021.pdf
  2. Magwegwe, F. (2022, March 28). “The economic cost of SA's mental health crisis”. Business Day. https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/opinion/2022-03-28-the-economic-cost-of-sas-mental-health-crisis/
  3. IOL. “Mental Health a Serious Issue in South Africa.” IOL, July 25, 2017. https://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/health/mental-health-a-serious-issue-in-south-africa-10400056
  4. Writer, Staff. “South African Companies Report Big Increase in Mental Health Issues.” https://businesstech.co.za/news/business/511288/south-african-companies-report-big-increase-in-mental-health-issues/
  5. Office, PsySSA. “Shortage of Psychologists Hits SA | PsySSA.” Accessed December 11, 2017. https://www.psyssa.com/shortage-of-psychologists-hits-sa/
  6. Galal, S. (2022, September 9). South Africa: People in extreme poverty 2016-2025. Statista. Retrieved September 16, 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/1263290/number-of-people-living-in-extreme-poverty-in-south-africa
  7. Church, Dawson, Crystal Hawk, Audrey J. Brooks, Olli Toukolehto, Maria Wren, Ingrid Dinter, and Phyllis Stein. “Psychological Trauma Symptom Improvement in Veterans Using Emotional Freedom Techniques: A Randomised Controlled Trial.” Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease 201, no. 2 (February 2013): 153–60. https://doi.org/10.1097/NMD.0b013e31827f6351

The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes that very one that can heal it.

—Nicholas Sparks