There has been an increase in the number of children and teens who commit or attempt suicide. By learning how to identify the warning signs and how to respond to someone who is suicidal, you could be a life-saver.
According to Pretoria psychiatrist Dr Franco Colin, "Early recognition of mental disorders in general is vital to detecting signs of suicidal behaviour. Educating both professionals and the public to behaviour indicative of suicide is necessary to alleviate the problem and reach out to those who are suffering."
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) offers the following pointers to parents:
Understand the risk factors
- Previous suicide attempts/current suicidal thoughts
- Psychiatric disorders (such as bipolar disorder, depression or impulsive aggressive behaviour)
- Drug and/or alcohol abuse
- Access to firearms
- Situational stress
Know the warning signs
Five warning signs of depression in teens:
- Sad, anxious or ‘empty’ mood
- Declining school performance
- Loss of pleasure/interest in social and sports activities
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Changes in weight or appetite
Five warning signs of bipolar disorder in teens
- Difficulty sleeping
- Excessive talkativeness, rapid speech, racing thoughts
- Frequent mood changes (both up and down), and/or irritability
- Increase in risky behaviour
- Exaggerated ideas of ability and importance
Three steps parents can take:
- Get your child help (medical or mental health professional)
- Support your child (listen, avoid undue criticism, remain connected)
- Become informed (library, local support group, internet)
Three steps teens can take:
- Take your friend’s actions seriously
- Encourage friend to seek professional help, accompany if necessary
- Talk to an adult you trust. Don’t be alone in helping your friend
According to SADAG: "the last point is of particular importance, as there seems to be a conspiracy of silence amongst teens surrounding suicide. We hear of suicidal teens confiding their intent to friends and making them promise not to tell. Teens who are not used to dealing with life and death situations may react with denial. Another factor at play is intense loyalty to one another which overrides common sense, the need for truth, and concerns about future consequences. What needs to be remembered here, though, is that although it may seem like squealing, it is for the safety of your friend."
Where to go for help
Call the SADAG Crisis line (0800 567 567) to speak to a trained counsellor.
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(Ilse Pauw, Health24)