This week (14 – 17 February 2022) marks Teen Suicide Prevention Week in South Africa.
It’s not often that we have dedicated, national commemorative occasions (or entire weeks) for teens experiencing mental health challenges (for example, there is no “teen anxiety week”). However, given that suicide is a leading cause of death among young people, it is understandable why we need to draw attention to this. This awareness week also takes place at the start of the academic year to encourage conversation among and provide support to parents, teachers and learners.
Suicide is preventable provided that help (in the form of policies and interventions) exists. This year we stand with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) and the National Department of Health to create awareness about how, through taking action, you can help support a young person who might be struggling.
Why is suicide a leading cause of death among young people?
Adolescence can be a time of change and uncertainty. During this time (like any other life stage), it is normal to feel sad, confused, unsure and scared. However, when these feelings are persistent or compounded by severe adverse life events, it may be detrimental to a person’s mental wellbeing. This can progress into a mental health disorder. Mental disorders, in particular affective disorders (like depression), are a strong predictor of suicide behaviour in young people.
This is all the more concerning in South Africa, where:
- In 2020, 56% of youth were unemployed in the country.
- Researchers predict the suicide risk may be elevated by 20-30% when a person is unemployed.
- There are limited youth-friendly mental health care and services in the country.
- In 2019, only three of the nine provinces have child psychiatrists working in the public sector.
- While we do have a national suicide hotline, more suicide prevention and treatment efforts are needed for young people specifically. This could include:
- Funding ongoing, accessible therapeutic contact with young people at high risk of taking their life.
- Funding research and implementation of community-based outpatient services (e.g. the SAFETY program) for young people who have attempted suicide.
- Reducing known risk factors for suicide (e.g. unemployment) and harnessing protective factors (e.g. hope and self-esteem).
- Over 30% of children reported that they had been ‘called unkind names’ by their peers. In the Free State, a third of children reported ‘being hit’ by other children and in Gauteng, a third of children reported being ‘left out’ or excluded.
- Bullying, such as the behaviours mentioned above, is a leading risk factor for suicide and self-harm among young people.
What can I do if my child/student/friend needs help?
The following are adapted suggestions from SADAG:
- If you notice any concerning behavioural changes or warning signs, ask your loved one what is troubling them.
- Be a willing and active listener and allow expressions of feelings. There is nothing shameful about a person saying they are not coping, feeling unwell, or speaking about suicide. Do not shy away from talking about this.
- Be non-judgemental. Do not debate whether suicide is right or wrong, or whether their feelings are good or bad. In the moment it is the most important to let the person know that you care, and let them know that they are not alone. Never say, “You have so much to live for” or that “suicide will hurt your family”.
- Do not be sworn to secrecy. Seek support.
- If there is an immediate danger of suicide, do not leave your loved one alone. Get help from persons specialising in crisis intervention or take the person to their nearest clinic. If necessary, get in touch with the police.
Help is available. For those who are suicidal and need help or are unsure how to help someone in need, contact the National Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567. This number is free and offers counselling in all 11 official languages.
What activities are happening a part of this week?
- SADAG and 702 Radio have partnered to bring you this Webinar taking place on Thursday, 17th February from 12PM – 1PM. Experts will explore how to better approach teen depression. Click here to register.
- On Friday, 18th February, SADAG is hosting an online expert Q&A on their social media called: “Tips for Parents – what to do after a Suicide attempt”.
- SADAG KZN is hosting an online community Forum on the Thursday, 24th February at 12PM
- From the 14th – 17th February SADAG is running an online campaign across social media platforms called #RealConvo – all are welcome to participate in the conversation around mental health, teen depression and suicide prevention.
Image courtesy of Any Lane via Pexels