Do you know that almost 1 in 10 of all teen deaths in South Africa is due to suicide? And, that the third leading cause of death among teenagers age 15 – 19 in the world is also due to suicide? Tragic numbers representing someone’s child, cousin, friend or neighbour.

This week (14 – 21 February) is the Teen Suicide Prevention Week in South Africa, which highlights awareness about teen depression and suicide as well as how the pandemic has affected many young people’s mental health negatively.

Suicide hardly occur without any warning signs and being aware of what it is and what to do when you recognise the signs can save someone’s life.

Signs to be aware of

All threats of suicide and such attempts should be taken seriously as signs are often given to friends or family members before it happens. Some of the signs are:

  • Teens with previous suicide attempts are more likely to try again
  • Talking directly or indirectly about death and suicide, like “everyone would be better off without me” or talking about saying goodbye or going away
  • Serious depression, often including long-lasting sadness, stop doing activities they previously enjoyed and more
  • If at least five of the symptoms below have occurred almost daily for a minimum of two weeks:
    • Have a depressed mood
    • Show extreme anxiety or impulsive behaviour
    • Feeling guilty, worthless or blames self
    • Feeling hopeless
    • Thoughts about death and suicide
    • Change in appetite or weight
    • Changed sleeping routines
    • Move or speak with an unfamiliar slowness or speed
    • Loss of energy
    • Excessive drug and/or alcohol use/abuse
    • Having a past of emotional or physical illness

Prevent Teen Suicide

Teen suicide can be prevented and a good start is to read up for a better understanding of the symptoms of depression, but it must not stop there.    

  • Ask what is troubling them
  • Be willing to listen
  • Don’t hesitate to ask if they are considering suicide
  • Don’t try to convince them out of suicide. Instead, let them know that you care, that they are not alone, that there is help to get and that any problem has a solution.
  • In a crisis situation, immediately remove any harmful objects that can be used for a suicidal attempt. If possible, phone your local emergency number or take the person to the hospital or a clinic. Under no circumstances leave him/her alone.

Erase the Stigma

Even though it appears as mental health is spoken about more than it was in the past, suicide is still surrounded by much stigma. Many of us are not willing to talk about it with teenagers and may even think that if we do we encourage such thoughts into action. This is not true, instead, it may help depressed teenagers to start sharing their feelings and experiences.

Be a part of erasing the damaging stigma around teen suicide by clicking on one of the following links here and here to find out more, alternatively share this blog post on your social media.

Contact details if you need help:

SADAG Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0800 567 567 (24 hours) or SMS 31393

SADAG Mental Health Line: 011 234 4837

Department of Social Development Substance Abuse Line: 0800 12 13 14 (24 hours) or SMS 323 12

Childline South Africa: 116 (24 hours)

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