Actress Nolo Phiri took part in SADAGs We Care campaign and urges people to speak out about suicide and depression.

 

A Durban mother whose teenage son went down the emotional path of attempting suicide, has opened up about the experience and how the family helped the son through that tough period.

Megan Dunstan, from the Upper West in Waterfall, said her son was 16 when he was under “intense” peer pressure from the “wrong crowd” at school and tried to take his life. He was friends with a group of teens who were infamous for fighting, were into drugs and were perceived as “cool”.

Her son, who did not wish to be named, did not take well to the pressure to conform, and attempted suicide.

“Teenage depression is a huge issue in our society. When children go through depression, suicide seems like the only way for them to escape,” she said.

The son had taken a mixture of pain killers, but fortunately his family intervened – and now at the age of 21 and working in a stable job, he has not attempted suicide again.

Dunstan, who volunteers as a suicide and mental health counsellor at the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) in Waterfall, said the support that was offered to her son saved his life.

“When a family goes through this you feel anger, guilt, sorrow, denial – then the reality kicks in that the child needs help. He was sent to a psychiatrist and a psychologist to deal with his emotions and was medicated. He has never attempted suicide again and is no longer dependant on any medication.

“The family is incredibly important as that is where the child will get support and understanding. It is imperative that family members give emotional support,” she said.

Dunstan had been unaware of Sadag when her son attempted suicide, but after much research, she found out about the organisation and actively became involved with the organisation as a suicide and mental health counsellor.

“In my opinion a child can most definitely recover from attempted suicide. This was a big challenge for me as it was something I was totally unprepared for and I had never considered one of my children would suffer from depression and attempt suicide,” she said.

But Dunstan cannot stress enough the importance of the affected teenager and the family being able to communicate through the tough times. She says it is important that parents – though they need to be stern, have to be cautious for signs of depression in their children.

“Parents need to look out for a depressed mood, changes in sleeping patterns, anxiety, substance abuse, low self esteem, thoughts of death or suicide,” she said.

Research showed that in 75 percent of all teen suicides, warning signs had been shown to either family or friends.

“Every suicide threat must be taken seriously. Schools need to open their doors to counsellors so this issue can be addressed and that children are made aware that there is help out there,” she said.

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Communication is key to suicide prevention

The non-profit organisation, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) – founded 16 years ago to provide support for people suffering with mental health illnesses – says people aged between 15 and 29 are the most vulnerable when it comes to suicide. The trend in South Africa is consistent with the rest of the world, and according to the National Youth Risk Behaviour Survey, 21.4 percent of teenagers have made at least one suicide attempt.

With Sadag declaring February 16 to 22 as teen suicide prevention week, the Daily News decided to look at the work of the organisation and one of the teenagers whose life was almost lost to suicide.

* For more information, you can visit www.sadag.org.

* Facebook – SOLOS http:iol.io/b6k54

* For support group meetings in Waterfall – every last Tuesday of the month at 6pm at the Waterfall library.

* For support group meetings in Durban – every third Monday of the month at 6pm at 171 Bulwer Road, Glenwood.

* For support group meetings in Durban North – the first Monday of every month third Monday of the month at 6pm at Swapo Road, Pam Golding House.