Suicide watch – the anxious wait for matric results

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Xoliswa Dube is on tenterhooks ahead of the release of her matric results.

The 16-year-old sat for her matric exams at Thuto-Lesedi Senior Secondary in Vosloorus, Gauteng, this year and has to wait until January 4 to see how she fared.

Xoliswa made many sacrifices for her studies, including staying away from social media. She only used WhatsApp to check in with her classmates and discuss school work and last year’s question papers.

Her mother, Fikile (42), who works as a cleaner, took over all the household chores, giving her daughter as much time as she needed to study.

Xoliswa, who wants to study information technology next year, knows that her family is relying on her to change their fortunes. She is
one of 802 636 Grade 12 pupils who sat for their exams this year and is quietly confident that she has done well.

Following the deaths of two Grade 11 pupils in Gauteng, who committed suicide after finding out that they had failed the year, Faiza Khota, who heads Childline’s 24-hour hotline in Gauteng, said parents should take the initiative to ensure the same fate didn’t befall their children.

Two weeks ago, Lerato Mashuge (19) drank paint after learning that she had failed. Her mother, Evelyn, now blames herself because she did not listen to her daughter during the year when she said she wanted to leave Morris Isaacson High School in Soweto.

Instead, she brushed her off.

On December 6, a Grade 11 pupil at Strauss Secondary School near Bronkhorstspruit hanged himself in his family’s garage. He was found by his mother.

“If your child is depressed, don’t be afraid to ask if he or she is considering suicide,” said Khota.

She also urged parents not to try to argue with their children about suicide, but rather let their children know that they cared. Parents should tell their children that they were not alone, that suicidal feelings were temporary, that depression could be treated and that problems could be solved.

“Avoid the temptation to tell your children that they have so much to live for or that committing suicide would hurt their family,” she said.

During an acute crisis, Khota said, suicidal children must be taken to an emergency room or clinic. They should never be left alone by themselves.

In addition, Khota said that anything that could be used as a weapon such as razors, pills, scissors and firearms – must be removed from the home or kept out of reach of suicidal children.

Khota said it was important for parents to help their children manage the anxiety and stress caused by exam results.

“Talk to your child about possible outcomes and options. Getting children active is a natural way to reduce stress. Reassure your child that, no matter what the outcome, your child is not alone; that you will be with them through their successes and challenges. Remind your child that you love them regardless of the outcome of their results,” she said.

Khota said parents should also seek help immediately if they felt that their children may be experiencing suicidal feelings.

While some people commit suicide without first displaying any of the warning signs, most did not, Khota said.

The most effective way to prevent suicide is to learn to recognise the signs of someone at risk – which should be taken seriously – and parents should understand how to respond to them.

The most obvious signs that a child needs help include talking about death or suicide, symptoms of depression and, of course, any previous suicide attempts.

Pupils should also share their feelings with their friends and family, Khota said.

Many pupils experience stress and anxiety because they feel pressured by friends and family to get good results so they can pursue their chosen careers and relieve financial strains at home. Many also worry about whether they are making the right career choices, and others feel overwhelmed by dramatic changes, such as leaving home to study at university.

“Pupils who are waiting for results need to know that it is normal for them to feel stress. Their peers are most likely feeling the same way. It will be helpful if they talk to their friends and realise that they are not alone,” Khota said.

She also suggested that pupils do some research and come up with a backup plan in case they didn’t do as well as they had hoped.

The main thing to remember is that family members’ disappointment can be managed and solutions can be found.

Clinical psychologist Vuyo Temba said it was important for pupils to understand that failure was a natural part of life, which, although painful, allows us to grow, become resilient and improve our ability to cope with adversity.

She said pupils needed to understand that the negative emotions that come with failure would fade with time. She said children needed help to forgive themselves and consciously move on from the situation.

“Forgiving themselves does not mean they will not have sad moments when they think about the failure, it just means they can consciously remind themselves that they have forgiven themselves for what they did or did not do right during that time,” she said.

She suggested parents do the following:

- Be there to help your children work through their failure;

- Stop taking your child’s failures personally and projecting your negative emotions on to them; and

- Remain supportive by asking how you can help your children instead of telling them what they need.

“This would include asking your kids what they think happened instead of telling them what you think happened or did not happen,” Temba said.

Basic education department spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said parents shouldn’t pile too much pressure on their children because some could not cope with their family’s high expectations. Also, those who failed had options, including being able to rewrite the exams through the department’s Second Chance programme.

“Everyone fails in life. Pupils must not view failing as a big blow to the point of taking their lives,” he said.

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