We Need More Community-Based Approaches To Preventing Teen Suicide

SAFMH News Room

Suicide is a leading cause of death among young people, despite it being preventable.  

Among South African university students, nearly half (46.4%) mentioned having thoughts about suicide, while over a quarter (26.5%) reported planning their suicide and 8.6% reported attempting suicide. Students who identified as women, Black, second-generation university students, and not heterosexual were more likely than their peers to report non-fatal suicidal behaviours. We need systematic interventions which target these specific groups whom we know are more at risk. 

Teen Suicide Prevention Week takes place annually in South Africa. This year it runs from 12 February 2023 – 19 February 2023.  

“We need a systemic, community-based and intersectoral approach to prevent teen suicide” says Bharti Patel, director of the South African Federation for Mental Health. “This will help to challenge the myth that suicide is a young person’s choice and acknowledges the role of systematic factors like the lack of access to quality mental health services play in suicide.” 

Teen suicide awareness week takes place at the start of the academic year to encourage conversation among and provide support to parents, teachers, and learners.  

 “We also need to ensure that suicide prevention services are available where young people already are, specifically, in their communities and online” says Patel. Communities who understand the unique stressors of their young members are often best placed to support their recovery 

As part of their teen suicide prevention strategy, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) actively create awareness in schools and on digital platforms to encourage public conversation, help combat stigma, and support young people bereaved by suicide. We need to continue to build capacity to provide community-based crisis support. For example, organisations that work with young people who experience domestic violence must have protocols, adequate training and supervision on how to talk to young people who may have suicidal ideation because of the trauma that they have experienced. 

Regarding policy, Patel says: “We need to have a Presidential Task Force on suicide to develop a National Suicide Prevention Policy and Action Plan. This task force must include different stakeholders, including people who have survived suicide and those who have lost someone to suicide to work together to make an impact.”

She also notes that suicide should be a priority agenda not only for the Department of Health, but also for the Department of Education (to prevent suicide amongst students), and the Department of Traditional Affairs (to be adequately equipped on how to talk to young people who may have suicidal ideation and provide referral pathways). 

 We can all work together to prevent suicide. 

Students – find a dedicated hotline or sign up for a support group

Educators – see how to talk to students about suicide prevention

Parents – see how to talk to your child or teen about suicide prevention

Everyone – learn how to create a Suicide Safety Plan and identify warning signs.

Help is available. The National Suicide Crisis Line is 0800 567 567. This number is free, operates 24/7 and offers counselling in all 11 official languages. 


Upcoming events for Teen Suicide Awareness Prevention Week hosted by SADAG:  


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