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Suicide a growing threat to SA youth

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Dr Andrew George r Andrew GeorgeDr Andrew George
Dr Andrew George r Andrew GeorgeDr Andrew George

A fleeting thought about suicide is not an uncommon experience – especially during moments of stress.

For some, their circumstances seem so insurmountable that feelings of despair and hopelessness are evoked. Reasoning abilities are then constricted to a point where suicide seems to be the only solution.

Thinking about ending one’s life can lead to increased preoccupation with suicidal thoughts and culminate in a suicide attempt.

Optimistically, we hope that the suicide attempt is effectively managed towards a complete recovery, with the necessary interventions.

Over the past few decades, the global trend of suicide prevalence has changed.

The adult and elderly population used to be at risk, with stressors including the loss of employment, financial debt, divorce, illness, a growing number of losses and the experience of loneliness.

The current indication, according to information provided by the World Health Organization in 2021, is that people in the age group of 15 to 29 years is at the highest risk. Accordingly, one person commits suicide every 40 seconds, and for each suicide at least 20 or more persons will attempt suicide.

Findings of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group reveal that 17,6% of teens have considered attempting suicide, with more than 20% of 18-year-olds having resorted to one or more suicide attempts. These alarming figures need our urgent attention.

Transitioning into adolescence and then into early adulthood is typically accompanied by numerous challenges and adjustments. Challenges differ, and many social exposures – such as alcohol and other recreational substances, romantic relationship challenges, competitive educational environments and poor parent-child relationships – may be satisfactorily traversed.

These challenges often transgress into stress factors which, if allowed to escalate, can have a negative impact on the individual’s mental health.

Adding to youth despair is South Africa’s high levels of violence, high unemployment rate and associated repercussions.

South Africa urgently needs a national suicide prevention strategy policy, as the existing National Mental Health Policy Framework and Strategy Plan lacks detailed content and is not suicide prevention specific.

) Dr Andrew George is a clinical psycho­logist at the Free State Psychia­tric Complex and senior lecturer in the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of the Free State.

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