Teen Suicide Prevention Week is commemorated annually in February. For 2021, it falls in the week of 14 – 21 February 2021, with the main aim of highlighting the global crisis around depression and anxiety leading to teen suicide. According to the World Health Organisation more than 800,000 people lose their lives by suicide a year worldwide, making it the principal cause of death among people fifteen to twenty-nine years old. It is often believed that it is only adults who exhibit suicidal behaviours, but it should be stressed that many children and young people also engage in this kind of behaviour as a result of violence, sexual abuse, bullying and cyberbullying.
Teen suicide is particularly prevalent in the 10-19 year old age group, and in South Africa 9.5% of all teenage deaths are due to suicide. The risk for suicide is higher in girls than boys, and a staggering 1 out of 3 suicide attempt cases seen in hospitals are teenagers.
The South African Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH) aims to raise awareness and help prevent and educate communities on suicide. SAFMH also raises awareness about the fact that this is an especially difficult period due to COVID-19. The pandemic has created immense stress, panic, fear and worry due to the fact that people are facing great uncertainty and experiencing profound loss. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) notes that teenagers are prone to thinking they will be judged solely on their academic excellence and not overall contribution to society and with COVID-19 and the shift in school structures it can affect academic performance. This is important to acknowledge in relation to teenagers in South Africa, who are uncertain about school, their social lives and experiencing an extreme shift in their day-to-day lives and schedules which can be distressing. It is important for parents, guardians and teenagers to bear this in mind and understand why students may experience depression, anxiety and even suicide ideation based on their academic performance.
It is vital to mention that mental health worldwide has been impacted drastically, and the feelings of isolation due to social distancing and being unable to see friends and family is especially hard for teenagers.
SAFMH urges teachers, parents, guardians, friends and family to pay attention to potential warning signs and to take these seriously immediately. It is reported that 75% of teenagers who attempt suicide give warnings of their suicidal ideation to people around them. SADAG states that some of the warning signs could be feeling overwhelmed, feeling empty and alone, prolonged feelings of sadness, and even comments about wanting to end their lives. It is important also not to shy away from speaking about suicide with teenagers. Research shows this does not make teenagers more likely to attempt suicide, and it is helpful because it gives teenagers the language and comfort to speak to the people around them about how they feel and attempt to get help.
This Teen Suicide Prevention week SAFMH invites government and private entities to invest in assisting with programmes that educate, assist and lower the rates of suicide. These programmes should be aimed at assisting those that deal with depression, anxiety and various mood disorders, before suicide ideation sets in. SAFMH urges government and private entities to commit to funding organisations that provide free support to the public. This includes helplines, crisis centres, counselling centres and production of resources to be shared with the public. SAFMH acknowledges the importance of programmes reaching out to schools to attempt to educate students and teachers on suicide and what to do.
SAFMH commits to the continuing support in the mental health sector in South Africa and we urge the public, government, private entities, and civil societies to join us to ensure that young lives are no longer lost or put in danger because of suicide. It is important to take suicidal comments and signs seriously, to talk about mental health and seek assistance as soon as possible.
References available on request