By Essie Bester
According to a study by Higher Health SA suicide is the second-biggest cause of death among young people in South Africa, and higher education specifically. Experts say Covid-19 has a big hand in this.
Anxiety, depression, drug abuse and the romanticisation of suicide feature considerably higher in comparison to previous years. “Specific aspects such as the bigger impact of peers on a teenager make them more vulnerable,” says Dr Erika Hitge, counsellor and psychometrist in private practice.
She explains that teenagers who were physically separated from their peers during lockdown can easily feel uprooted, insecure, and could begin to feel unsure of their place in the social groups of which they are part.
While teenagers at this age are in a process of increasing independence (especially emotionally) and it is now their job to become independent of the primary family, lockdown has caused them to feel sold out to family life. This can cause a lot of frustration, and even depression.
Teenagers are known to be emotional owing to hormone changes. One can therefore accept that additional adjustments will cause additional stress. Their own inability to regulate their emotions and keep on functioning in their relationships can make teenagers feel desperate.
“The Covid-19 pandemic is a breeding ground for stress and when stress levels cannot be controlled it could turn into behavioural problems coupled with depression and anxiety. The latter could lead to an inclination towards suicide that is usually linked to a feeling of hopelessness,” confirms Professor Lourens Schlebusch, a world-renowned expert on suicide.
On top of this the current uncertainty in the field of education aggravates young people’s situation. All these factors cause stress and depression, which are further spurred on by the Covid-9 pandemic. This is a recipe that makes the problem much more intense for teenagers.
Although not all who suffer from depression commit suicide, most people who struggle with thoughts of suicide are depressed. Not all teenagers show their intent beforehand, but there are definite signs.
The probable triggers that parents should take note of, include:
- sudden change in behaviour;
- aimless actions;
- mood swings (exuberant joy and/or tantrums on the one hand, and a strange calmness on the other);
- social withdrawal;
- giving away valuable personal possessions;
- obsession with suicide
- no preparations for future;
- changes in eating habits and weight loss or gain;
- sleeping habits that change, listlessness, constant tiredness and no energy; and
- a feeling of worthlessness and excessive feelings of guilt.
Since March 2020 there has been a considerable increase in calls from young people between the ages of 13 and 24 years, according to Lifeline South Africa. “The young people were especially bothered by the lockdown slot at home and often described it as destructive,” says a spokesperson.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) is warning South Africans that a further crisis wave is going to hit the country. They say that according to international research it is predicted that the psychological impact of Covid-19 is going to be more destructive and last longer than the pandemic itself.
In reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic and the national lockdown the Department of Higher Education and Training recently introduced a 24-hour toll-free helpline to support university students and personnel during the pandemic. It is a joint project of the Department, Higher Health SA and the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.
This service supports all our students and campus communities with mental-health challenges – those who are experiencing sexual abuse and other psychosocial health challenges as a result of Covid-19. Students are encouraged to use the toll-free number 0800 36 36 36 at any time.