Compiled by Dr Lynn Holmes SEPSA Chairperson 8th February 2020
According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (“South African Depression and Anxiety Group”, 2020), 9% of all teenage deaths in South Africa are due to suicide. Unfortunately, this figure is on the increase, as teenagers turn to Facebook and other social media platforms to gauge their popularity and self-worth2. This leads to social isolation. Cyber and online bullying as well as online shaming by peers has led to an increase in suicidal thoughts and attempts by teenagers3. According to SADAG1, South Africa’s largest mental health initiative, 90% of adolescents who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. “Our teens are depressed and often have no-one to turn to for support”, says SADAG founder Zane Wilson. “Combined with a lack of resources, family problems, poverty and loss, suicide all too often seems to be the only answer for these children”.
Suicide occurs within all classes and cultures and, for prevention efforts to be most effective, both adults and the youth themselves need to learn about what leads to suicide – and how to prevent the preventable. Left undiagnosed and untreated, mental illness can be fatal, and thus needs to be addressed – urgently and with the utmost priority. It is known that depression is the cause of most teen suicide but what causes depression in teens? Psychologists believe that some people have a genetic tendency towards depression while others develop depression due to external environmental factors. Loneliness and social isolation, bullying, abuse, loss and conflict can all result in depression – and too often suicide.
Some Warning Signs of Suicide:
- Talking about suicide – always take this seriously
- Preparing for death – giving things away, saying goodbye
- Drastic changes in personality
- Risk-taking behaviour – drinking and driving, taking drugs
- Writing poems, essays about death or painting images of death
There has been intense discussion and varied reaction to the Netflix’s series “13 Reason’s Why”4, which shows a teenager’s “diary” of events, with 13 reasons, which lead up to an eventual suicide. One study conducted by (J. A., J.B & D, 2020) concluded that the release of the series was associated with a significant increase in suicide rates amongst male US youth aged 10 to 17 years in the month directly after release and for two months thereafter. Caution regarding the exposure of children and adolescents to the series is warranted. Teenagers tend to talk more to their peers and engage less with adults when it comes to their feelings. This is a worrying trend as their friends often do not know how to assist them, and the situation never resolves itself. Therefore, this series could be a good platform for adults to engage appropriately with youth to open up dialogue around teenage suicide, the feelings it evokes and alternative ways in which these can be managed and channeled.
There has been research conducted in South Africa regarding rising suicidal thoughts and rates amongst youth who have been diagnosed with HIV due to the shame and stigma attached to having the disease6.
SADAG1 has the only South African national toll-free suicide crisis line – 0800 567 567 – as well as an SMS service (31393) for teens who are in crisis. Their lines are open 7 days a week from 8am to 8pm and they receive an overwhelming number of calls from teens, peers, teachers and parents seeking help and advice.
Parents and teachers can call the PsySSA office on 011-486-3322 for a referral for more intensive treatment with an HPCSA registered psychologist in the province and area where they require assistance.
Below are some useful links and references for further information and study.
- South African Depression and Anxiety Group. (2020). Retrieved from http://www.sadag.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=1840&Itemid=153
- Rise in teen suicide connected to social media popularity: study. (2017). Retrieved 7 February 2020, from https://nypost.com/2017/11/14/rise-in-teen-suicide-connectedto-social-media-popularity-study/
- Hinduja, S., & Patchin, J. (2018). Connecting Adolescent Suicide to the Severity of Bullying and Cyberbullying. Journal Of School Violence, 18(3), 333-346. DOI: 10.1080/15388220.2018.1492417
- John M. Grohol, P. (2020). The Psychology of ’13 Reasons Why,’ Suicide & High School Life. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-psychology-of-13-reasons-why-suicide-high-school-life/
- “13 Reasons Why” Netflix Series: Considerations for Educators. (2020). Retrieved from https://www.nasponline.org/resources-and-publications/resources-and-podcasts/school-climate-safety-and-crisis/mental-health-resources/preventing-youth-suicide/13-reasons-why-netflix-series/13-reasons-why-netflix-series-considerations-for-educators
- J. A., B., J.B, G., & D, R. (2020). Council Page. Journal Of The American Academy Of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 59(2), 216-218. DOI: 10.1016/s0890-8567(19)32181-1
- Casale, M., Boyes, M., Pantelic, M., Toska, E., & Cluver, L. (2019). Suicidal thoughts and behaviour among South African adolescents living with HIV: Can social support buffer the impact of stigma?. Retrieved from https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2018.10.102