Suicide is the 4th leading cause of death in youth aged 15-29 – here’s how you can save your child

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More than 700 000 people die due to suicide every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
More than 700 000 people die due to suicide every year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Blue_Cutler/Getty

"She killed herself before she could even see her matric results," a devastated reader wrote to us about her baby sister.

The letter came during the period that’s considered most stressful for matric students – the December/January period when pupils would usually expect the results of their final high school exams. It's a trying time and, as the wait for results starts, parents are urged to be on high alert because many students, like this reader's young sister, take their own lives out of disappointment or fear of failure during this period.

“She killed herself by overdosing on pills and we recently buried her," said the reader. "We are heartbroken because she killed herself before she could even see her matric results. 

"And she had passed."

Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in young people aged 15-29, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), with 77% of global suicides occurring in low- and middle-income countries.

Read more | My church rejected me for being gay and made me repent for being suicidal, I thrived anyway

South Africa is among the top 10 countries with the highest rates of suicide, according to World Population Review data, and the pandemic has only made emotional distress and mental illness worse among youngsters in countries battered by unemployment, crime and high levels of economic inequality.

The links between mental illness and suicide have been well documented and, with the Covid-19 pandemic, more and more people around the world are suffering from depression, including children.

“Half of all mental health conditions start by age 14,” says the WHO.

Read more | Not in the mood – when your teen may be suffering from a mental disorder

There are signs you can look out for. For instance, teens who are thinking about committing suicide might:

  • talk about suicide or death in general;
  • give hints that they might not be around anymore;
  • talk about feeling hopeless or feeling guilty;
  • pull away from friends or family;
  • start giving away treasured possessions to siblings or friends;
  • lose the desire to take part in favourite things or activities;
  • have trouble concentrating or thinking clearly;
  • experience changes in eating or sleeping habits,
  • engage in risk-taking behaviours, or
  • lose interest in school or sports.

Parents must be alert if they notice any of these signs. You know your child best, and should be able to spot behavioural changes.

Take the signs seriously – many people who are suicidal give a warning of their intentions to a friend or family member. You may think your friend or child is seeking attention, but investigate what they say as they may be serious.

Get help: SADAG is dedicated to suicide-prevention and crisis-intervention for people going through crisis. The organisation runs a toll-free Suicide Crisis Helpline. If you or a loved one are in crisis, you can call 0800-567-567 or visit the SADAG website.

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