Depression pushes young people over the edge
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Friday, September 10, marked World Suicide Prevention Day. For many, this is a triggering day as they have lost a loved one to suicide.
For Thuto Metlwa’s family, it brings them back to the day they found the 34-year-old man hanging from their garage ceiling.
“It was the 22nd of December 2019, just before Christmas. While we knew he was unemployed and struggling to get a job, we didn’t think he would take his own life. We didn’t think he was this affected by it that it led him to depression,” said Thuto’s mother, Jenny Metlwa.
Seated on the couch of their home, Metlwa cannot help but shed tears when reminiscing on the “kind and gentle” person her son was.
“He was a very kind soul. He loved listening to music, hip-hop. He’d listen to his favourite 2PAC albums and bang them loud in the house,” she says with a chuckle.
The body of Thuto was found on the morning of December 22, 2019, hanging from the ceiling of their garage. He usually slept in the room outside and seemed to have snuck out of his room to the garage to take his life. He was discovered by his sister, Aleta Metlwa, when she realised something was strange.
“He’d usually come into the house for breakfast or whatever it is he would need, but this time, he didn’t. I first went to his room and realised it was too quiet. I thought maybe he had gone out for the night, but also, he hadn’t said anything about going out. I just felt a strange instinct that something was not right. I walked towards the garage door, calling for him and when I opened it, I was met by a glimpse of his All Star sneakers hanging. I screamed immediately and my mother came by asking what was wrong after she heard my screams. And there was her son, hanging from the ceiling, lifeless,” she recalled.
He left no note behind explaining to his family why he took his life. While it’s been a difficult time since Thuto’s suicide nearly two years ago, for the family, they find strength in prayer.
“Prayer keeps us going. We keep our trust in the Lord. He guides us and knows best. There is nothing else we can do,” said Jenny.
According to Dr Ancel George who is a Senior Lecturer and Clinical Psychologist at the Free State Psychiatric Complex, Faculty of Health Sciences, at the University of Free State, thoughts of suicide are not uncommon for a number of people.
“A fleeting thought of suicide is not an uncommon experience for quite a number of people, especially during moments of stress or strife. Sadly, for some, their surrounding circumstances or confronting situations seem so insurmountable that these evoke feelings of despair, hopelessness, and constrict the individual reasoning abilities to a point where suicide seems to be the only reasonable solution to their problem,” he said.
He said, thinking about ending one’s life (suicide ideation) on a frequent basis, can lead to increased preoccupation with suicidal thoughts, to the point where a detailed plan - a suicide attempt - is put into action.
“Optimistically, we hope that the suicide attempt is effectively managed towards complete recovery, with the necessary interventions. If loss of life has occurred due to the suicide attempt, the individual has completed suicide. Although the suicidal mindset focuses on eradicating the pain or stressor, the left-behinds (surviving family/friends) are often shocked or disillusioned by these acts, an aspect often less discussed,” he said.
On why the youth are at higher risk, George said transitioning into adolescence and then into early adulthood is typically accompanied by a number of challenges and adjustments.
“Such challenges are varied, and depending on an individual’s resources and support, many social exposures - alcohol and other recreational substances, romantic relationship challenges, competitive educational environments, poor parent-child relationships, to name but a few - may be satisfactorily traversed.
“Unfortunately, many of these challenges transgress into stress factors which, if allowed to escalate, can negatively impact on the individual’s mental health,” he said.
In addition to these social pressures, South Africa is viewed as one of the more violent countries in the world, while its high unemployment rate and associated repercussions have placed inordinate stressors on family well-being.
Compounding this effect is the presence of uncertainty in the socio-political arena.
“These economic uncertainties contribute to a strained societal environment in which the most vulnerable are often neglected in terms of adequate and efficient resource provision. The youth are more impulsive and less skilled in problem-solving, thereby increasing their vulnerability to the above stressors,” he added.
Dr Ancel George stressed that Professional help is available and can make a big difference.
“Consult a GP or go to your local casualty department, where you should receive some help and be referred to a psychologist and/or psychiatrist, depending on the need. These professionals will be able to do a risk assessment and advise accordingly in terms of treatment and a psychotherapy plan to assist, support, and guide the person towards coping more effectively with life challenges,” he said.
If you or someone you know is suffering from depression, contact the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) on 011 234 4837 for assistance.