NATIONAL NEWS - Teen suicide is becoming more common every year in South Africa, says the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag). Only car accidents and homicide kill more youths between the ages of 15 and 24.
With teen suicide prevention week from 11 to 18 February, the organisation shines much-needed attention on this sensitive topic.
Sadag's research indicates that although more females attempt suicide, more males succeed. "This is due to the more violent nature males select. Girls are more likely to overdose on medication, or take chemicals, whereas boys often find access to firearms or hang themselves."
Founder of Sadag Zane Wilson says, "It is not hard to see why serious depression and suicide are connected. Depression involves a long-lasting sad mood that doesn't let up and a loss of pleasure in things you once enjoyed. It involves thoughts about death, negative thoughts about oneself, a sense of worthlessness."
He says they get calls ranging from a teen girl of 15 who has been constantly abused by her stepfather, to a boy who has lost his elder brother due to gang violence and a child of 12 whose mother has recently died of Aids.
The Western Cape education department (WCED) says that contemplating suicide and actually trying to commit suicide are very common among school children. Roger Jacobs of the department's specialised learner and educator support (SLES) in the Eden District, says national statistics show that one in every five teenagers tries to commit suicide.
Jacobs cautions schools to treat suicides as normal deaths as too much publicity and attention could lead to copycat suicides, which are well documented.
According to Jacobs, 23 threats to commit suicide have been reported and dealt with in our district so far this year.
"The education psychologists and school social workers deal with all referrals as a matter of urgency. In fact, the suicide protocol states that all threats are taken seriously and dealt with as soon as possible."
Furthermore, issues of personal development, emotional issues, resilience and general well-being are addressed in the subject Life Orientation. Twenty-two care and support assistants are deployed at schools to deal with emotional first-aid cases, which then get referred to the professionals of the department.
Jacobs says schools are not encouraged to arrange for talks on this issue, but it can be discussed in a controlled and caring atmosphere in the classrooms. Skilled counsellors support the Sadag helplines and encourage teens to get professional help, to talk to an adult they trust, to go to a doctor, or talk to a church leader.
For schools that are in crisis due to the death of a learner, a teacher or even a parent, a programme called "When Death Impacts your School" is available. Sadag also has the only national toll-free suicide crisis line - 0800 567 567 - as well as an SMS service (31393) for teens who are in crisis. Their lines are open seven days a week from 08:00 to 20:00.
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