Spotlight on teen depression and suicide

Teenage Suicide Prevention Week runs from February 21 to February 28.

Teenage Suicide Prevention Week was marked from February 21 to February 28.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), teenage suicide is becoming more common every year in South Africa.

“In South Africa, 9% of all teen deaths are caused by suicide. The fastest growing age is young people under 35, specifically female suicides which peak between 15 to 19 years,” said SADAG in a press statement last week.

SADAG answers the national toll-free Suicide Crisis Line, which takes calls from teens who are calling for themselves or on behalf of a friend.

Zane Wilson, founder of SADAG, said: “It is not hard to see why serious depression and suicide are connected. Depression involves a long lasting sad mood that doesn’t let up and a loss of pleasure in things you once enjoyed. It involves thoughts about death, negative thoughts about oneself, a sense of worthlessness.

“We get calls ranging from a teen girl of 15 who has been constantly abused by her stepfather, a boy who has lost his elder brother due to gang violence and a child of 12 whose mother has recently died of AIDS. Sometimes they feel there is nothing to look forward to or that life would be less painful if they were to end it.”

Skilled counsellors support the crisis line and encourage teens to get professional help, to talk to an adult they trust, to go to a doctor, or talk to a church leader.

“The fact that huge numbers of young people still take their own lives spurs on our teachers, educators, police, clinics, churches, NGOs, community based organisations, youth and support groups to even greater efforts to halt this increase. Mental health matters. It should matter to all of us,” said Mr Wilson.

“In some cases, suicidal teenagers may hint that they will not be around much longer, saying goodbyes or speaking as if they intend ‘going away’. They may give away personal possessions or make attempts to ‘put their affairs in order’,” says Mark de la Ray, a psychologist practising at Akeso Kenilworth Adolescents/Young Adults (KAYA) and Akeso Kenilworth mental health facilities, in Claremont.

“Indications such as these definitely should not be dismissed by adults and loved ones, as these are real signs that all is not well.

“In addition to offering emotional support, it is imperative to seek professional assistance promptly as early treatment can help to prevent the situation from escalating to the point of a potentially imminent tragedy.”

Mr De la Ray said teenagers who have attempted to take their own lives previously are at higher risk for suicide and should be carefully monitored for any signs of such intent recurring.

“It would be dangerous to assume that any attempt at suicide, whether ‘serious’ injury is sustained or not, is simply attention seeking behaviour that does not require intervention. Any form of suicidal acting out would indicate that there is deep underlying distress and an inability to cope with current life circumstances, whether this is attributable to depression or another type of mental health problem.”

Western Cape MEC for Social Development, Sharna Fernandez said at the start of Teen Suicide Prevention Week that residents are able to access psycho-social support from the Western Cape government.

“There is help available for you. The department spends well over a billion rand delivering psycho-social support and many more services to the most vulnerable people in society. The Department of Social Development has trained professionals who are more than willing to assist those who require psycho-social support during what may be a very difficult time.

“The public can access our services by visiting any of our regional or local offices closest to them, or by contacting the DSD hotline on 0800 220 250.”