Parents have been warned to look out for depression signs in their children as they run the last lap of the education year.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression is globally the third highest disease burden amongst adolescents and suicide the second leading cause of death in 15 to 29-year-old age group.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) statistics show that 9% of teenage deaths in the country are due to suicide.
Sadag said that children as young as 6 years old suffer from depression.
The organisation said there is a growing trend of university students who commit suicide.
“Unfortunately this has lead to many suicides World Mental Health Day (marked yesterday) is important in spotlighting mental illness and promoting mental wellness for the student population which is a growing vulnerable group.” said clinical psychologist and Sadag board member Zamo Mbele.
Dr Sebolelo Seape, chairperson of the Psychiatry Management Group, said the prevention of teen suicides starts with better understanding of the symptoms of depression.
“Most people with depression are not suicidal, but most suicidal people are depressed,” she said.
She urged parents, teachers and friends concerned about a teenager at risk of suicide to show willingness to “listen without judgement, provide reassurance that they care and to ask questions about suicidal thoughts”.
“Don’t try to argue them out of suicide and avoid guilt-inducing statements like ‘suicide will hurt your family’. Rather let them know that you care and want to understand, that they are not alone and that problems and suicidal feelings are temporary - that depression can be treated,” she said.
Seape said almost one in 10 teenage deaths in South Africa every year were as a result of suicide.
“Up 20% of high school learners have tried to take their own lives. There are social changes too, like changing schools, the pressure of final exams, the prospect of leaving home to start tertiary studies or a job, as well as other stress factors such as family issues, changes in their friend networks, and the pressure to succeed,” Seape said.
Seape said warning signs and symptoms could include changes in eating and sleeping habits, loss of interest in usual activities, neglect of personal appearance or hygiene, withdrawal from friends and family, or running away from home.
“Alcohol and substance abuse, risk-taking behaviour, obsession with death and dying, and numerous physical complaints linked to emotional distress, are also signals, she said, as well as feelings of boredom, agitation, nervousness, sadness, loneliness or hopelessness.
“Some teenagers may actually pass verbal hints by talking about death and dying directly or indirectly All threats of suicide must be taken seriously,” Seape said.