Teenage years can be tough and sometimes drains one’s energy, hope, and drive, making it difficult for them to feel positive in life. It is at this time that teens with low resiliency attributes entertain the thoughts of suicide. As we observe the Teen Suicide Prevention Week, we are reminded of the recent times we have experienced a spread in teenagers committing suicide at schools and Higher Education Institutions (HEI’s). This scourge has left not only families and those close to the deceased in deep pain, but it has also led to many others feeling lost, anxious and even depressed. The tragedy of teen suicide is further complicated by the social stigma attached to it by the society. The most poignant issue about teen suicide is that parents struggle to come to terms with the “why?” and try to find a rational answer to why their child chose to commit suicide. Unfortunately, most of them never receive an answer that would make it possible for them to deal with the bereavement and to eventually come terms with the ordeal and move on with their own lives.
There are various reason leading to teen suicide, amongst them being mental health issues or psychopathology, social competence and identity, negative self-concept and self-esteem, unhealthy competition, poor academic achievement, and inappropriate age developmental, to mention but a few. Despite them being exposed to numerous psycho-social support systems, many teens who commit suicide are so engrossed in their internal pain that they miss seeing the support and love surrounding them. It is unfortunate that suicide does not have fixed attributes but is more as a dynamic process that evolves over time and current context. Rather than being elusive of the existence of this travesty in our teens lives, stakeholders in the helping must explore healthy developmental initiatives that are relevant to the South African realities and can be enhanced throughout multiple systems approach.
If we are to prevent teen suicide, there is urgent need for proactive and preventative approaches that can reduce the tragedy. We need to educate communities to identify simple signs and symptoms amongst teenagers that have the potential to lead to suicide such as (but not limited to) anxiety, apprehension, tension, or uneasiness and any perceived threat or anticipation of danger. If our teens believe something important to them is being threatened and they overestimate the threat, underestimate their ability to cope with it, or underestimate the inner and outer resources they have available to cope with it, then they are prone to suicidal thoughts.
There are various ways to challenge suicidal thoughts and action, but these four will give many teenagers a preventative kick-start to teen suicide:
Think outside yourself.
Allow yourself to be less than perfect.
Socialize with positive people.
Keep a “positive thought log.”
When dealing with teens, we need not only listen with our ears, but also need to listen with our eyes, heads and hearts. This small act of support can go a long way to save a teenager’s life.