Combating suicide

LifeLine Johannesburg was established in 1969 (42 years ago). The non-profit organisation exists to facilitate the emotional wellness of individuals and communities that it serves.

Some 550 highly trained, volunteer counsellors work in the LifeLine Johannesburg, Soweto and Alexandra offices. They provide a vital, 24 hour telephone counselling service, as well as Face-to-Face counselling, Rape counselling and Trauma debriefing to those people who traditionally have no access to psychosocial support.

LifeLine Johannesburg: (011) 728 1347

LifeLine national counselling line: 0861 322 322

1. Are all suicide calls the same?

Each call to LifeLine is unique and it is difficult to generalise. However, there are basically three types of calls:

  • The suicidal caller who is seeing suicide as an option.
  • The caller who has already made the decision and is dying.
  • The third party caller who is concerned about someone who is attempting or about to attempt suicide.

2. What is generally the cause of suicide?

Some of the reasons that people commit suicide are:

  • Loss/anticipated loss
  • Stressful events (including university examinations).
  • Hopelessness/perceived inability to bring about change/difference
  • Feeling invisible
  • Poor problem-solving skills
  • Depression/mental illness
  • Crime and violence
  • Exposure to family violence
  • HIV/Aids, cancer – social stigma
  • Loss of support/resources
  • Change
  • Academic pressure – parents/examination stress/fear of failure/fear of disappointing loved ones
  • Conflict within the home
  • Relationship problems – rejection                                                                                                                               
  • Low self-esteem                                                                                             
  • Shame or a shameful incident
  • Financial stress
  • Alcohol/drug/gambling addiction
  • Stress
  • Rape/incest
  • Feelings being experienced by a suicidal person may be:
  • Desperate
  • Angry
  • Guilty
  • Worthless
  • Lonely
  • Sad
  • Hopeless
  • Helpless
  • Their resulting thoughts (and possible verbal expressions) are:
  • “I can’t do anything right”
  • “I just can’t take it any more”
  • “I wish I were dead”
  • “Everyone will be better off without me”
  • “All of my problems will end soon”
  • “No one can do anything to help me now”
  • “I just can’t keep my thoughts straight any more

Suicide is a life and death issue. Suicide is simply an option, and as with all options there are at least two ways to go, i.e. the option to die and the option to live (or the knowledge that one cannot continue living within the same set of circumstances). What the person is saying is that, at present, life is too painful and that they do not want to go on with life being the way it is. There may be ambivalence about the choice.


If a person has recently attempted suicide or is seriously considering doing so now, they need to go to a hospital for psychiatric intervention – not LifeLine counselling. It is the responsibility of family and friends to get the person professional help, because the alternative is death!

3. Is there a rise in problems such as depression and stress related illness in South Africa which may lead to suicide?

Yes.  We are also living in a time where there a huge rise in  traumatic events such as violent crime and rape, contracting of the HIV virus, stressful circumstances and home environments owing to financial strain and retrenchments. There is an increasing lack of support owing to our need to work harder and longer hours, resulting in spending less time with family and friends.  (See 2.)

4. If a person is struggling with thoughts of suicide, what can he/she do (where can they go for help)?

  • Call LifeLine and if necessary, come in to see a counsellor (face-to-face)
  • Talkto anyone who will listen:
    • Spouse/Partner
    • Parents
    • Family
    • Friends
    • Student Counsellors/Guidance Counsellors
    • Lecturers/Teachers
    • Religious heads, e.g. Minister, Priest, Rabbi
  • In an emergency, contact the police, paramedics or ambulance service.

5. What can you do to help your friend if you think he/she is struggling with depression and suicide thoughts?

  • Ask them to talk to you – and then listen to them!  Try not to be afraid of the intensity of the despair and do not try and convince them why their life is worth living i.e. but you have your future ahead of you, you are intelligent and …  This is probably not the suicidal person’s reality at this moment in time.
  • Watch for actions that correspond with thoughts:
    • Withdrawal (family, friends, university/school, work) - “I can’t do anything right”
    • Abuse of alcohol, drugs - “I just can’t take it any more”
    • Reckless behaviour - “I wish I were dead”
    • Extreme behaviour changes - “Everyone will be better off without me”
    • Impulsivity - “All of my problems will end soon”
    • Self–mutilation - “No one can do anything to help me now”, “Now I know what they were going through”
    • Loss of interest in hobbies - “I just can’t keep my thoughts straight any more”
    • Giving away possessions – “I won’t be needing these things anymore”.
  • Watch for physical signs:
    • Lack of interest in appearance
    • Change/loss in sex interest
    • Disturbed sleep
    • Change/loss of appetite, weight
    • Physical health complaints.
  • Referthem to a psychiatrist, doctor, psychologist, social worker or to LifeLine to help them work through their depression and suicidal thoughts.

6. What can people do to relieve their stress?

  • Try to keep a work-life balance. (Emotional wellness is one of eight dimensions of optimal health and wellness. Wellness is the dynamic process of becoming aware of, taking responsibility for, and making choices that directly contribute to one’s holistic well being and that of the common good. It is the integration of body, mind and spirit and the ongoing development of one’s own meaning in life.)
  • Do physical exercise, according to their fitness level.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Do relaxation exercises.
  • Talk about their stress and share their feelings of stress, feeling overwhelmed, fear of failure and what that means.
  • Surround themselves with supportive people.
  • Make time to relax i.e. listen to music, watch a movie, go for a walk.

(Press Release, Lifeline, December 2011) 

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