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Teen suicide on the increase; the question is “Why?”

Parents, caregivers, educators and friends are warned to take suicide signs and threats seriously and seek professional help.

With youngsters across the country having recently received their exam results, it is natural for them to be experiencing stress and anxiety as exam time and receiving results are among the most significant stressors of growing up according to the Akeso group.

Akeso is a group of private in-patient psychiatric hospitals and is part of the Netcare Group.

According to Tegan Rix, an occupational therapist at Akeso Milnerton, on top of this, teenagers have to deal with overwhelming societal pressure to be successful.

“At the start of the new academic year, adolescents and young adults also find themselves heading for new grades, possible class and school changes, or heading to university, college, or in the case of those not continuing their studies, looking for employment. For those who have written Grade 12 exams, years of studying, hard work and dedication were devoted to one last set of exams which can dictate their future.

“Young people with an underlying mental illnesses may experience depression in the time leading up to exams, and also if they achieved lower than expected results that may make them feel they have let themselves and others down. This depression, often accompanied by social isolation and loneliness, can lead to suicide.”

• What causes youngsters to feel hopeless?

Research has suggested that the main reported causes of depression, suicidal ideation and associated hopelessness, are difficulty with meeting expected university standards, loneliness, relationship difficulties and strained relationships with parents, Rix said.

“Failing represents a significant psychological threat, in which their motivation to avoid failure far outweighs the motivation to succeed in any identified task or challenge. A deep sense of shame can be a toxic emotional reaction for some as it does not target our actions, but instead targets who we are as a person. This is why some people will actively avoid the psychological threat of failure.”

When moving to a higher grade, or from school to university, young people may be exposed to other students who perform better than them, increased workloads, and different academic expectations. If young people can learn to be resilient, and refrain from negative comparisons with others, they may experience less negative emotions.

Tegan added that fear of failure looks different for every individual.

“It is important to be able to identify this pattern of behaviour and work to overcome it,” she said.

• Look out for warning signs

While some suicides may occur without any outward warning, most do not. Rix explained that the most effective way to prevent suicide is to learn to recognise the signs of someone at risk, take these signs seriously and know how to respond to them. It can, however, be difficult to predict suicide.

Warning signs may present differently for individual young persons. These include behavioural changes, and thoughts or feelings which may give clues about the increased risk of suicidal behaviour. Other signs are more difficult to identify, especially when adolescents internalise their feelings and emotions and keep them hidden from family and friends.

“It’s advisable for caregivers and friends to be observant of changes in behaviour over a short period of time and to ask questions,” Tegan said.

• The main warning signs include:

• Feelings of hopelessness or having no hope for the future

• Increased substance abuse

• Isolation and loneliness

• Irritability and aggression

• Negative view of the self and their abilities

• Expressing death through writing, talking or drawing

• Self-harming behaviours such as cutting

• Giving personal belongings of value away to others

• Expressing the feeling of being a burden to others

• What can be done to help vulnerable youngsters?

Although some youngsters would like to dedicate a large portion of their day to their books, it is equally important for them to ensure they maintain a healthy level of physical activity and engage in constructive hobbies during study time, Tegan said.

“It’s also important to ensure that any physical illness is treated, that they maintain a good level of self-care (like getting out of their pyjamas and getting ready for the day), having enough sleep, spending leisure time with company they value, and enjoying and maintaining a healthy and balanced diet.”

• How can parents and family help?

Tegan said we should not underestimate the impact caused by parental figures especially. It is of utmost importance that caregivers find a middle ground between what they expect their children to achieve and what is realistically attainable with regard to results from school or university.

If your child is away from home and you are not able to support him or her in person, send a message to ask how the studies are going and, most importantly, how he or she is feeling. Messages allow your child to reply whenever they have the chance and when they have a break. You can also ask when would be the best time to call them throughout the day, so that they know when to expect the call.

“During exam time and before receiving results, do not verbalise things such as, ‘you sound nervous’, or ‘this is your most difficult subject’ – facts of which they are well aware. Focus on them, and ask them if there is anything you can do to ensure their study and exam period is as comfortable as possible, and thereafter, try to reduce the anxiety that they might feel during the period before their exam results arrive. Remind them that you are part of their support structure. Avoid saying ‘I know you will do well’ or ‘You have been studying really hard and I am sure you will pass’ as these statements add to the expectation.”

If you believe someone you know is feeling suicidal and requires help, contact Akeso Clinics on 0861 435 787.

• Facts about teen suicide in South Africa:

• Nine per cent of all teen deaths are due to suicide – and this figure is on the increase

• In the 15 and 24 year age group, suicide is the second leading – and fastest growing – cause of death

• Children as young as seven have committed suicide in South Africa

• Every day 22 people take their lives

• Research indicates that 75 per cent of people who commit, or attempt, suicide have given some warning

• Ninety per cent of adolescents who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness

Do you perhaps have more information pertaining to this story? Email us at randfonteinherald@caxton.co.za  (please remember to include your contact details in the email) or phone us on 011 693 3671.

For free daily local news on the West Rand, also visit our sister newspaper websites

Roodepoort Record

Krugersdorp News 

Get It Joburg West Magazine

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