A new analysis suggests that increased social media use could be one factor contributing to a rise in teen suicide. Picture: AP
Cape Town - According to the SA Depression and Anxiety group (Sadag), suicide is the second leading and fastest-growing cause of death among young South Africans in the 15-25 age group, accounting for about 9% of all teenage deaths.

It’s also said that for every suicide, there were believed to be at least 12 suicide attempts.

Sadag operations director Cassey Chambers said 90% of adolescents who died by suicide had an underlying mental illness - frequently, depression.

“While some people have a genetic tendency towards depression, others develop it as a result of loneliness and social isolation, bullying, loss, abuse and conflict. And there’s a catalyst that this generation is often having to contend with - social media,” she said.

A study of how social media affects the mental health of young people found that increased participation in social media networks was associated with increased psychological distress - with the effects almost twice as severe among girls.

Chambers said there was an increase in anxiety and depression cases, even among primary school children.

“We’re only now starting to see the effects of the technology age impacting our children. Cyberbullying is a leading cause of anxiety and access to technology results in young children being far more conscious of the world around them,” she said.

Dean McCoubrey, founder of My- SociaLife, a social media and online safety educator, said students in all her programmes told about the pressure they felt around life online, and many agreed it bent their character or values, leading to inappropriate or out of character behaviour. Her programme supports parents, teachers and psychologists to help children feel safer and behave smarter online.

Samukelisiwe Nosipho Mthembu, a clinical psychologist, said the situation had worsened to the point that mental health education needed to start from primary schools.

“Suicide as a leading cause of death has been in the top 10 for a while. However, not enough has been put in place to ensure people don’t commit suicide. It’s not something easy to measure and see where it comes from. More mental health illnesses are showing up from each category,” she said.

“While the statistics are there, mental health has received less funding and attention in the medical field.This has contributed to the increase in suicides.”

Added McCoubrey: “So many kids are so ‘social’, and yet so many are also feeling alone - it’s the great paradox of social media. We’ll look back on this time in a decade or two and ask why we didn’t prepare our children more carefully for life online.”

Mthembu said schools should adopt ways of coping, which should form part of physical education and possibly subjects like life orientation.

@Mtuzeli

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Cape Argus