As matric results are released, could your teen be at increased risk of suicide? Here's what to know

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Depression in teenagers is common.
Depression in teenagers is common.

Exam results are due to be released soon, making this an important time to remember that this period may not be all positive for everyone who wrote matric exams.

For parents and guardians, this is as good of a time as any to remember that the mental health of your child is far more important than their academic results.

Parent24 spoke to Kayla Phillips, Press Liaison for the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), to find out more about the impact the exam season, and the wait for results, can have on the mental health of teenagers.

"It's not that teens are more stressed during this time of year..." 

Kayla revealed, to our surprise, that teens are not actually more stressed at this time of year, but that their reason for stressing might change.

"From our experience we receive the same amount of calls throughout the year. However, the reason for them calling may differ this time of the year. At the beginning of the year there's more anxiety, pressure and stress," she said.

"Whereas towards periods of the exams or end of the year, there may be more trauma, substance abuse or exam stress. The reasons for calling change throughout the year, however we don't see a spike or dip in the number of calls we receive," she explained.

"It all depends on when the numbers are being shared or advertised," she said.

Also read: OPINION | Dear Matrics of 2021: No matter what, you have a bright future

Why is depression called a silent killer?

Two decades ago, the most common illness referred to as the silent killer was high blood pressure but today's silent killer, which haunts people of all ages, children, teenagers and adults, is the medical condition known as depression.

Depression often comes with feelings of hopelessness, lethargy, isolation and a sense of futility, it can create havoc in the minds of adults and teenagers alike, and often leads to suicide.

So often, in fact, that every 40 seconds someone dies by suicide.

In many societies depression is frequently deemed as an illness one needs to be shameful of, and is therefore not spoken about enough.

Depression itself brings about feelings of being overwhelmed and alone and sufferers often withdraw from social interaction, and with the increased pressure of the stigma, they do not always reach out for help.

When these negative and bleak thoughts and emotions are not processed or rationalised they end up creating cognitive dissonance. This is a psychological term that refers to the mental discomfort experienced by a person who holds two or more contradictory beliefs and ideas about themselves.

These thoughts and emotions may linger for weeks, months and even years building to levels of mental anguish and hopelessness which sometimes culminate in suicide, if not psychologically and medically treated in good time.

More than just a bad mood

Depression in teenagers is common, and the causes can include environmental factors such as family dysfunction, poverty and deprivation, loneliness, social isolation, bullying, stress, physical and verbal abuse.

If left untreated over a sustained period of time, a teenagers will increasingly experience emotional and physical symptoms including loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy, sadness that persists, irritability and anger, reduced appetite or weight gain, a decline in social interaction, sleep disturbance (insomnia) or sleeping too much.

In severe cases they will experience anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, fixating on past failures, intrusive thoughts and suicidal ideation.

Also see: 'The most important thing is not to panic': How to prepare and cope with disappointing matric results

Teens one of the highest risk groups for suicide

Suicide has become a frighteningly common option for teenagers who suffer from a mental health disorder and 90% of teens who commit suicide are suffering from an untreated mental health disorder.

With teens being the highest risk group for suicide, 9.5% of teen deaths in South Africa are by suicide. 

The sad fact is 75% of South Africans who do not know about depression or keep it a private matter do not receive the help they need, and this can have serious consequences. 

Anxiety and depression are often under-estimated or overlooked by parents whose children suffer from these conditions.

What parents can do to help their teen

It is important to speak to your child their feelings, Kayla urged.  A next step should be consulting their doctor, who may suggest seeing a therapist or offer medication.

Kayla said it is important to promote a healthy lifestyle.

"The fundamentals for good mental health include a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, doing exercise, and positive connections with other people," she recommended. 

SADAG has a Teen Suicide Prevention Week campaign at the beginning of each year, to create awareness at the start of the year.

Find out more about Teen Suicide Prevention here

If you or someone you know is at risk, reach out to SADAG or call:

Suicide Crisis Line: 0800 567 567

SADAG Mental Health Line: 011 234 4837

Chatback:

Share your stories and questions with us via email at chatback@parent24.com. Anonymous contributions are welcome.

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