Suicide is also the second most common cause of death among young people.
According to the World Health Organisation, a suicide occurs every 40 seconds and an attempt is made every three seconds.

Suicide is also the second most common cause of death among young people. These are shattering facts from the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag).

This week is Teen Suicide Prevention Week (February 18-25), and this year Sadag is training teachers how to identify teens at risk.

In South Africa alone, suicide accounts for 9.5 percent of all unnatural teen deaths. The National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey 2011 shows that 17.6 percent of teens have considered attempting suicide, while 31.5 percent of teen suicide attempts required medical treatment. This means that every one of us has come across someone wanting to attempt suicide or ended up being just a statistic.

“Too many teens are taking their lives and more needs to be done to prevent this needless tragedy,” says Sadag’s operations director Cassey Chambers.

Suicide doesn’t have a name or face. It’s so hard to pinpoint the main reason why they’ve considered this drastic action. But Chambers points out that undiagnosed or untreated depression is the leading cause of suicide.

“Through more awareness, as well as more psycho-social problems (poverty, crime, violence, family problems, etc) and poor coping skills and support, we have noticed more calls from teens who feel helpless, hopeless, depressed and even suicidal."

The stats are alarming – 9.5 percent of all teens who commit suicide, and 17.8 percent of teens – have made one or more suicide attempts,” she adds when asked about the number of calls Sadag gets in comparison to 10 years ago.

And it affects teenagers from all backgrounds, no matter their social or economic status.

Sadag says they get the same number of calls from urban and rural areas. But while they may get the same number of calls, the reasons differ. An interesting observation that the organisation has picked up on is that in these two groups, the method of suicide or attempting suicide is slightly different.

“In more rural areas we see more people using poisons or chemicals and hanging, while in more urban areas we see more people using pills and guns.”

So what are the procedures that Sadag uses when a teen approaches them for help? Chambers explains that they provide telephone counselling of a non-judgemental nature.

Sadag also provide referrals for face-to-face counselling, support groups, therapists, doctors if necessary, and any other type of referral they might need.

“We handle each call differently. Often, just providing a listening ear, compassion and an action plan really helps.”

The NPO believes teen suicide is a tragedy preventable through help and education.

This is where teachers come in – they are in a position to identify a teen at risk and reach out to them.

Zondre Bantom, a life orientation teacher and school counsellor at Christel House in Cape Town says the school takes a holistic approach. He says the school has sufficient resources to deal with bullied or depressed pupils. Sometimes even with the measures schools take, children fall through the cracks. What happens then?

Bantom believes that as teachers they are sensitive to their children’s needs. And yes, sometimes if they feel that a child displays signs of depression or has suicidal tendencies, they are quick to contact social services, who then make home visits.

Not all schools have the resources to cope with children that just need extra attention. And that’s why Sadag has taken it upon itself to give teachers the tools to deal with depressed teens. They will be holding three free workshops in Randburg in Gauteng, Umhlanga in KZN and Cape Town, targeting teachers, parents and community members to learn more about teen depression and suicide prevention, as well as how Sadag can help.

But they also have a long-term strategy and offer school talks throughout the year to pupils and teachers focusing on topics such as depression, stress, suicide prevention, substance abuse, bullying, grief and trauma.

“Do not wait for your friend to start showing the warning signs, that she is sad most of the time, cries a lot without consolation, feels terrible guilt for no reason and has a sense of emptiness.

“Do not wait for her to say that she cannot be happy any more and is hopeless about the future.

"Do not wait for the warning signs, ask gently and listen carefully,” concludes Sadag clinical psychologist, Zamo Mbele.

* Sadag’s helpline operates seven days a week from 8am-8pm at 0800567567 or visit www.sadag.org.

The warning signs:

  • A suddenly deteriorating academic or sports performance
  • Fixation on death
  • Unhealthy peer relationships
  • Volatile mood or a sudden change in personality
  • Risk-taking behaviours
  • Abusive or dysfunctional family environment
  • Eating disorder, self-harm
  • Bullying
  • Neglecting personal hygiene and appearance
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Social isolation
  • Frequent absenteeism