Children as young as six are depressed and turning to suicide as a way out.
During suicide prevention week in February, the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) said awareness around suicide and mental health was important.
Sadag Operations Director, Cassey Chambers said it was important to add mental health to the calendar and raise awareness around it.
Chambers said that while there was no real spike or pattern in suicides, they noted a number of cases late last year that involved children.
“If you think of a class with 30 or 40 learners, one in four is a high number in such a small group. In 10 days we had a six-year- old and that is the youngest we know of, we also had a 9-year-old and also a 12-year-old commit suicide. For us that is very alarming and very high.
“We need to create awareness now we see we need to focus on children, and parents must know about it and cannot assume that because they are children they can't be depressed.”
Chambers said parents should look out for warning signs in children and if a child refuses to talk to them, they must look to professionals for help.
“Some don't feel they can open up to their parent and often they can't express how they feel. It's important to encourage them to speak to someone. Sometimes they feel more comfortable to speak to people other than their parents.”
Chambers said depression affected children from all walks of life.
“The interesting thing is there is not more in rural areas when compared to urban areas; we are seeing the same in both which shows mental illness does not discriminate. The methods are different in urban areas where we see more overdosing on medication; in rural areas we see overdosing on chemicals.”
Sadag will be conducting a “Suicide Shouldn't be a Secret” programme with their School Talk Team that will be visiting various schools around the country.
Each school talk will target up to 1500 pupils; they also have brochures and wristbands with emergency numbers on them.
The Institute of Race Relations said better suicide prevention and intervention measures needed to be implemented in schools and broader communities.
According to its research, IRR analyst Tawanda Makombo said South Africa had a high suicide rate when compared to other countries.
Makombo said factors like unemployment and economic hardship, combined with the insufficiency of suicide prevention services, could be reasons for South Africa's high suicide mortality rate.
Trusted helplines include: Suicide Crisis Line: 0800 567 567, SADAG Mental Health Line: 011 234 4837 and Lifeline’s Counselling Number: 0861 322 322