Once you become a parent, they say your heart walks outside of you, implanted in that precious human being you call your child. Losing them becomes a nightmare that often keeps you awake at night, with all the ways they could pass away running through your mind. While these various scenarios play out, it’s likely that suicide is not a problem you worry about extensively. It never seems like something your own child would do, because you know them deeply, don’t you?
But the reality is that we often don’t. As our children grow up, becoming more and more independent and spending more and more time away from us, they experience life differently to how we may think. You may imagine that being a child is full of carefree days spent with friends and having fun, but teens these days are under an immense amount of pressure, in all spheres of their lives. If it’s not impossible academic standards they’re trying to achieve (in order to get into university or college), it’s the pressure to be beautiful or popular, made worse by the rapid onset of social media.
According to The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), 9% of all teen deaths in South Africa are caused by suicide, specifically female suicides which peak between the ages of 15 and 19 years old. Risk factors for suicide among young people include ‘having mental illness (especially depression), alcohol and drug abuse, previous suicide attempts, and the availability of firearms in the home’.
Other warning signs are if your teen starts to talk about death or suicide, and becomes fixated on it. Bear in mind that they could talk about it more indirectly though, or speak as if they are going away (when they have no plans to). Depression manifests itself in different ways in different people, but there are some signs to look out for, including a loss of pleasure or withdrawal from activities that your teen once enjoyed. Have they gone off collecting their favourite vintage comic books? Stopped watching Project Runway entirely? No longer going to the movies with friends every Friday night like they used to?
Their sleeping patterns could also change, as well as their weight or appetite. Pay attention to rapid weight loss or gain, and changes in eating patterns. Are they acting much more fatigued than usual, or do they have much more energy than is normal? If someone in your family (or yourself) has a history of mental illness, you should also be on high alert.
Take any warning signs for suicide very seriously, sit down with your teen and ask them what is wrong. Don’t laugh off their thoughts or feelings, rather listen intently and then go and see a health professional together. In acute circumstances make sure that your teen is never left alone, and go and visit the emergency room or a clinic near you, together. Also remove any dangerous weapons or items from their space, including razors, firearms, scissors and drugs/medication.
If you need more advice or are worried that your teen is thinking of committing suicide, get them to call SADAG, who provides the only Suicide Crisis Helplines in South Africa, on 0800 567 .
DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is for educational purposes only, and is not intended as medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you are experiencing symptoms or need health advice, please consult a healthcare professional.