By Melodie Veldhuizen
According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), depression and thoughts of suicide, attempts and in many cases suicide by teenagers often go hand in hand. Although sometimes there may not be any warning or outward signs, there might well be subtle or specific indications. Many teen deaths due to suicide can be prevented if parents, teachers and other adults recognise these warning signs in time, take them seriously and know how to react.
Which factors or causes can give rise to suicide thought/attempts in teens?
Various factors/causes may lead to depression, from which thoughts of suicide or attempts may arise.
- Relationship problems (parents, siblings, friends, the opposite sex, teachers)
- Family problems (divorce, authority, finances, uninvolved or over-involved parents, domestic violence, imbalance of priorities)
- Emotional, verbal, physical or sexual abuse
- Perfectionism and tension due to internal and external pressure
- Failures and shame (e.g. unwanted pregnancy)
- Peer pressure
- Previous attempts or family history of suicide
- Terminal or chronic illness or physical/mental disability
- Trauma (death of a parent/sibling/close family/friend, serious accident, hijacking, robbery)
- Mental health problems or family history thereof (depression, bipolar, drug or alcohol abuse)
- Abuse of social media (attachment, undesirable contacts who can cause emotional trauma)
- Victim of bullying
- Lack of a support network or social isolation
- Bisexuality or homosexuality without the necessary support
What are the most common warning signs?
These include signs of depression that need not necessarily indicate possible suicide, but it is important to take cognisance thereof, especially if it continues over a long period (two weeks or longer).
- Lack of interest in hobbies and other activities which used to be enjoyed
- Unwillingness to attend school
- Deterioration in scholastic performance
- Chooses to be alone and withdraws him/her from family members and friends
- Antisocial behaviour
- Neglects personal grooming
- Shows dangerous or risky behaviour
- Unrealistic thoughts about the wonderful things he/she is still going to do
- Uncontrolled thoughts
- Change in sleeping and eating patterns (cannot sleep or sleeps too much, eats more or less)
- Talks or moves unusually fast or slowly
- Continuous exhaustion or loss of energy
- Feelings of failure, worthlessness, hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, self-blame
- Anxious, tense, irritated, anger outbursts
- Continuous sadness
- Concentration problems, irresolute, listless
- The future seems dark/without vision
- Makes remarks such as: ‘I’m just stupid’ or ‘Nobody likes me’ or ‘My family/friends will be better off without me’.
- Talks about death or suicide often by, for example, talking as if they are saying goodbye, planning to go away or won’t be here for much longer. Threats to take his/her life or says he/she no longer wants to live.
- Writes songs, poems or letters or draws pictures, paints with death, parting or loss as theme.
- Gives away things he/she cherishes to friends or siblings.
How can you help and act in a preventive manner?
Take all warning signs to heart that last longer than two weeks. Don’t make out suicide threats or death wishes as just being a way of attracting attention and ignoring them.
If your own child or a learner in your class shows one or more of the above-mentioned warning signs, create the opportunity for a chat. Do this without creating the impression that you want to confront her. Be sympathetic and invite her to talk about what is bothering or upsetting her, depresses her or what is causing her to no longer want to live. Instead of reasoning about how wrong it is to consider suicide, that she has so much to live and be grateful for, and how much it will hurt her loved ones if she takes her own life, be positive. Say that problems can be solved, depression is curable and that thoughts of suicide are only temporary. Listen with an open mind, without reproaches, advice or moralising. Your love, interest, caring, understanding, compassion and peaceful presence are usually of greater value than a lot of words. Assure her that you will treat everything that she shares/has shared with you as confidential. Encourage her to talk to you at any time. Encourage a healthy lifestyle, such as regular exercise and healthy eating and sleeping habits. Encourage her to once again do the things she used to enjoy. Encourage involvement in the church’s youth ministry. Avoid unnecessary pressure or unrealistic expectations.
If the child’s emotional condition is of such a serious nature that you cannot help and you think that despite your talk she will do something irresponsible, don’t leave her alone and remove everything that could possibly be used in a suicide attempts, such as tablets, blades, sharp objects or firearms.
Make an appointment with a (child) psychologist or counsellor as soon as possible.
Important emergency numbers:
- LifeLine: 0861 322 322
- Child Line: 08 000 55 555
- Radio Pulpit Youth Counsellors: WhatsApp by 071 679 4302
- SADAG (SA Depression and Anxiety Group):
24 hour helpline: 0800 456 789
Suicide emergency number: 0800 567 567
Maroela Media. https://maroelamedia.co.za/nuus/sa-nuus/tienerselfmoord-wanneer-rooi-ligte-moet-flikker/
Smit, Johan. 2015. In die donker put. Vereeniging. CUM