Is your teen at risk of committing suicide? What to look out for

Last week two grade 11 students at La Rochelle high school in the Western Cape committed suicide. The two learners, identified as Jade Gouws, 17, and Zara Malherbe, 17, died on Wednesday and Friday respectively.

According to The South African Depression and Anxiety Group, “the average suicide is 17.2 per 100 000 (8% of all deaths) in South Africa”.

Teen suicide, in particular, may be influenced by the following factors:

  • Mental illness such as depression
  • Conduct disorder
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Previous suicide attempts
  • Availability of firearms in the home

According to SADAG, these are the red flags to look out for in a teen that is at high risk of committing suicide:

  • Depressed mood
  • Extreme anxiety, agitation, or enraged behaviour
  • Excessive drug or alcohol use
  • History of physical or emotional illness
  • Feelings of hopelessness or desperation
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Speaking or moving with unusual speed or slowness
  • Fatigue or loss of energy
  • Feelings of worthlessness, self-reproach, or guilt
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

If your teen is displaying five or more of these signs, you should seek help for them.

Other teens vocalise the desire to kill themselves, and these threats should be taken seriously.

Teens that are also at high risk are those that have tried to take their lives before. It is important that sharp objects and other drugs be removed in places where they can easily access them.

How to help?

SADAG advises that the best way to help is to listen to your teen with an open heart. Letting your teen know that you are there for them and are willing to listen to them in a caring way can go a long way. If they don’t volunteer information about their current mental state, it is important to ask them about it if you see there is something troubling them.

If they are unwilling to talk to you, you can give them the SADAG Whatsapp number where they can talk to a trained counselor. The number is 076 882 2775.

Exam stress

These are stressful times for your teen, and the anxiety of preparing and showing up for each paper can lead to extreme depression, and this can lead to suicide.

It is, therefore, important for parents to help their teens during this time by being as supportive as possible. SADAG suggests that families should ensure that their teens get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, have a good study schedule, and you should also know their timetable.

ALSO SEE: 6 tips that will help your child study better for their final exams

Being kept in the loop about how your child is doing throughout will help gauge how the exams are affecting them mentally.

The signs are always there when we pay enough attention.

Social media

Social media has presented teens and parents with new challenges. Where kids had to just deal with bullying at school and in their neighborhood, cyberbullying has now become the new norm. Teens have been reported to kill themselves after being bullied online, and teen suicide has been on the rise as social media popularity increases.

ALSO SEE: Protecting your child from cyberbullying and suicide on social media

Phone and social media usage should not be left to the demise of children alone. It is imperative for parents to make their children aware of the dangers of social media, and the apps and content they should stay away from for their safety.

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