Teen suicide – know the signs

A recent report by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) found that 9% of all teen deaths are due to suicide, and this figure is on the increase.

This year, for Teen Suicide Prevention Week (14 – 21 February 2022), The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) is helping parents, teachers and the community by sharing information on how to have difficult conversations around teen depression and suicide prevention. According to experts, teens are the most at-risk age group for suicide in South Africa, says SADAG.

“The most at-risk age group for suicide in South Africa are adolescents, and recently we are hearing about more and more teen suicides in the press all around the country. The need to talk more about Teen Suicide as it is important to help parents, teachers and our communities to identify the risk in our teens early. We need to empower them to have real conversations about issues that teens are dealing with, and help get them the urgent help they need. Talking about Teen Suicide Prevention saves lives. One teen suicide is one too many.”

Talking about Suicide Prevention, especially Teen Suicide, is often taboo, too hard, difficult and awkward. The fear of saying the wrong thing, or “planting the seed” is often what parents and teachers tell SADAG. SADAG wants to help parents and teachers on how to have conversation with their teens.

Throughout the week, SADAG will be launching an online campaign called #RealConvo’s sharing important conversation starters, helpful tips on what to say and what not to say, sharing expert videos, and resources on how to talk about Teen Suicide Prevention. You don’t need special training to have an open, authentic genuine conversation about mental health. Often, just talking about it can be the first important step in staying connected.

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

In South Africa the average suicide is 17.2 per 100 000 (8% of all deaths). This relates only to deaths reported by academic hospitals. The real figure is higher, SADAG says.

Know the signs
• Previous suicide attempts: 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.
• 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.
    Be willing to listen
  • Take the initiative to ask what is troubling them
  • If your friend or relative is depressed DON’T be afraid to ask whether he/she is considering suicide
  • Do NOT attempt to argue anyone out of suicide, rather let the person know that you care and understand that they are not alone, that suicidal feelings are temporary, that depression can be treated and that problems can be solved. AVOID the temptation to say, “ You have so much to live for” or that “ suicide will hurt your family”.
    In a crisis
  • In an acute crisis , take the person to an emergency room or walk-in clinic – DO NOT leave the person alone until help is available
  • Remove drugs , razors, scissors or firearms that could be used in a suicide attempt away from the potentially suicidal person
  • If the above options are unavailable call your local emergency numbers.
    Contact SADAG on 0800 567 567.