Durban - More and more teenagers are contemplating suicide. Research shows that nearly one in 10 non-natural deaths in young people is a result of suicide, one in five teenagers has considered suicide and 17 percent have planned to commit suicide.
“Ten years ago, the elderly were most at risk of committing suicide, but nowadays, younger people are attempting or committing suicide,” said Professor Lourens Schlebusch, of the department of behavioural medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine.
Schlebusch, a leading expert on stress and suicide, says that for every fatal suicide, there are 20 suicide attempts.
The Durban Parasuicide Study conducted over 25 years by the professor and his researchers revealed that children and adolescents are the second most at-risk age group for non-fatal suicides after young adults.
Up to one-third of all attempted suicides seen in hospitals involve children and adolescents.
Experts say adolescents have to deal with physical, social and academic changes, and may feel overwhelmed.
For some teenagers, school is filled with anxiety, loneliness and pressure to fit in. Family troubles or relationship problems makes things worse.
“Something desperately needs to be done to address the issue on an educational level,” says Schlebusch.
The issue of young people taking their own lives is very much in the spotlight during Teen Suicide Prevention Week, which ends on Sunday.
Cassey Chambers, operations director of the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), believes teen suicide is preventable, but that not enough is being done during children’s formative years to help them deal with social issues.
“Just last week we were called into a school to offer counselling after a 10-year-old tried to commit suicide,” she says.
“We have to ask ourselves: How are we in this position that children as young as 10 are seeing suicide as the only answer?
“Underlying psychological problems like depression are not diagnosed in time or, sometimes, at all, and in South Africa there is definitely a lack of access to appropriate psychological care… Schools and communities often lack the money for adequate services or training, and many schools - some of which have up to 2 400 pupils - don’t have counsellors.”
But Chambers says that while townships and rural areas face a plethora of problems, suicide isn’t exclusive to the poorer communities - cases of suicide and attempted suicide crop up throughout the country.
“It is critical to have a thorough understanding of the risk factors and causes of suicidal behaviour in order to deal with them,” she says.
“Only through destigmatisation and education, through teaching peers and teachers to recognise warning signs and intervene timeously and appropriately, can we save lives.”
Schlebusch says schoolchildren and students need to be trained to identify and manage conflict and crises that could result in suicidal behaviour.
Sadag’s teen suicide prevention programme, “Suicide Shouldn’t be a Secret”, has been running for more than 12 years and educates teens and teachers about the warning signs, causes and interventions for depression and suicide.
The programme is conducted class by class in schools across the country by a team of 10 counsellors at each school.
It has been implemented in rural, peri-urban and urban schools and has helped hundreds of thousands of teens get the help they needed.
Sadag plans to host Facebook Friday chats tomorrow at 1pm with psychologist Dianne Mallaby and 7pm with psychologist Joanna Klevoulou and Sadag trainer Janine Shamos.
They will focus on teen depression and how to help someone who you think is suicidal.
Teens with depression often feel there is nowhere to turn and that there’s only one solution to their problem – they don’t understand that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.