Youth suicide on the increase

New research conducted in Umtata in the Eastern Cape has found that there is an increase in youth suicides, especially among men.

The study was conducted by Prof Banwari Meel, head of the Department of Forensic Medicine at the Walter Sisulu University, and was published in the Journal of Primary Health Care in Family Medicine.

Meel assessed over 10 000 deaths at the Umtata General Mortuary between 1993 and 2003. Of the 398 hangings that were investigated, 23% of them were youths below 20 years. The rate in males suicides has increased from 4.5 per 100 000 in 1993 to 14 per 100 000 in 2003. The incidence in female suicides in the same age group rose from 0.7 per 100 000 to 2.2 per 100 000.

The report indicates that there is an increase in hangings from 5.2 per 100 000 in 1993 to 16.2 per 100 000 in 2003.

Depression and hopelessness are generally regarded as the main causes of a completed suicide. Over 90% of suicide victims had a psychiatric disorder at the time of death. Another contributory factor is the high level of alcohol misuse which has been reported among residents of disadvantaged communities. Another study in the Transkei indicated that financial hardships were the reason in 87% of suicides.

In interviews with 368 teenagers in America with or without depression, researchers found that for those with the disorder, social stigma and worry about their families' reaction were some of the main barriers to seeking help.

The study also found that teenagers who reported those obstacles were less likely than others to go for counselling or drug therapy six months later. The findings suggest that when a teenager is found to be depressed, doctors should speak to them about any reluctance to be treated.

"Intervention and help is needed," says a spokesperson for the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

"If you do not feel comfortable seeing someone, please ring SADAG for advice or counselling. Speak to a teacher, church leader or a social worker. Children often say you must keep their feelings of death and despair a secret .This is not good advice as very often counselling alleviates their despair."

Look out for these warning signs

  • Loss of interest in things you like to do
  • Sadness that won't go away
  • Irritability or feeling angry a lot
  • Feeling guilty or hopeless
  • Not enjoying things you once liked
  • Feeling tense or worrying a lot
  • Crying a lot
  • Spending lots of time alone
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Sleeping too much or too little
  • Having low energy or restless feelings
  • Feeling tired a lot
  • Missing school a lot
  • Hard time making decisions
  • Thinking of dying or killing yourself

For help contact SADAG on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.

(South African Depression and Anxiety Group and Health24, June 2009)

Meel, B (2009) Suicide among young adults and teenagers in Transkei, Journal of Primary Health Care in Family Medicine.

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