Almost one in ten teenage deaths in SA every year are the result of suicide. Up 20% of teenagers have tried to take their own lives.
Teenage suicide is a growing concern with one in four teens attempting to take their own lives. This is according to the South African Depression & Anxiety Group (SADAG). SADAG encourages parents and their teenagers to have an honest conversation about mental health.
Why are children killing themselves?
Being a teenager is challenging in itself, and teens often experience huge emotional changes. Teens start high school, form new relationships, deal with peer pressure, academic stress and societal pressures, and family problems. But what makes them crack?
“Teen suicide is, for the most part, an impulsive act by a teenager who is very likely to be struggling with probably multiple issues in their personal, family, or school life. The impulsive act occurs in response to a stressor that is just one too much for an adolescent to deal with,” says Dr Helen Clark, a psychiatrist who works with children and adolescents in Johannesburg.
Facts about teen suicide
According to WHO, a suicide occurs every 40 seconds and an attempt is made every three seconds. In South African, hanging is the most frequently employed method of suicide, followed by shooting, gasing, and burning.
Risk factors for suicide among the young include the presence of mental illness- especially depression, conduct disorder, alcohol and drug abuse; previous suicide attempts; and the availability of firearms in the home. In South Africa 60% of people who commit suicide are depressed.
Know the danger signs
Between 20 and 50 percent of people who kill themselves have previously attempted suicide. Those who make serious suicide attempts are at much greater risk of actually taking their lives.
It’s important for parents to watch out for the following signs:
Talking about death or suicide: People who commit suicide often talk about it directly or indirectly. Be alert to such statements as, “My family would be better off without me”. Sometimes those contemplating suicide talk as if they are saying goodbye or going away.
Depression: Although most depressed people are not suicidal, most suicidal people are depressed. Serious depression can be manifested in obvious sadness, but often it is expressed instead as a loss of pleasure or withdrawal from activities that had once been enjoyable.
Be concerned about depressed persons if at least five of the following symptoms have been present nearly every day for at least two weeks:
- depressed mood
- change in sleeping patterns –
- change in appetite or weight – speaking or moving with unusual speed or slowness –
- fatigue or loss of energy
- feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach, or guilt – thoughts of death or suicide
Additional factors that point to an increased risk for suicide in depressed individuals are:
- Extreme anxiety, agitation, or enraged behaviour
- Excessive drug and/or alcohol use or abuse – History of physical or emotional illness
- Feelings of hopelessness or desperation
Take the signs seriously
75% of all suicides give some warning of their intentions to a friend or family member. All suicide threats and attempts should be taken seriously. SADAG runs the only Suicide Crisis Helpline, which can be reached at 0800 567 567. For more information, visit www.sadag.org