Spotlight: Teen suicide - What to look out for


More than 9% of teen deaths are caused by suicide, revealed the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).

A Durban Para-suicide study in 2013 found that up to one-third of all attempted suicides seen in hospitals involves children and adolescents.

And a research project at the Nelson Mandela School of Medicine also indicated that suicide is on the rise in the country and that children as young as 10 are dying by suicide.

SADAG says that the biggest contributing factor to teen suicide is undiagnosed and untreated depression. And over 75% of teens who commit suicide, tell someone first.

Suicide warning signs:

There are numerous tell-tale signs that a young person may be contemplating suicide, says Deyzel. These include:

  • Severe depression or signs of depression over time.
  • A feeling of loss (for example: death of a loved one, even a pet).
  • Not receiving acknowledgement for what they've achieved (in a negative sense).
  • Hurting themselves, for example, cutting.
  • Bullying at school and the feeling of isolation.
  • Parents who are either too strict or too lenient in terms of discipline.
  • Excessive or very little structure at home.
  • Alcohol abuse at home.
  • Substance abuse by the teen.
  • Talking about suicide, death or a general negativity about life.
  • A previous attempt at suicide.
  • Deterioration in the schoolwork.
  • Breaking up of a relationship, which often feels like a life-threatening crisis.
  • Giving things away which were regarded as precious to them.
  • A desire to visit places where they were happy, for example, pre-primary school, or to see a person to say thank you, when actually it's to say goodbye.

Ways we sometimes dismiss a suicide threat:

  • "All too often people tend to think a person or family member won't commit suicide; that s/he is just acting out as a form of manipulation.
  • "Also, when a teen says s/he feels depressed, tired, and is crying a lot, they are told to change their attitude and stop feeling sorry for themselves.
  • "When a suicide is planned, the teen actually becomes very calm and purpose driven. Their bedroom is suddenly very tidy and their school work is up to date. This may lead others to think the teen's mental state is on the mend," explains Deyzel.

She continues: "The fact is, many a teenager who attempts or threatens to commit suicide, eventually does it. Therefore, no attempt or threat must be ignored. It is usually a cry for help and intervention is needed to prevent suicide," she cautions.

What to do if you suspect a teen wants to commit suicide:

If someone suspects a friend or family member is considering suicide, they should take action immediately, Deyzel advises.

  • "Warn the parents or other persons close to the teenager about your suspicions.
  • "Instead of criticising, talk to the teenager.
  • "Get professional help from a psychologist, psychiatrist or a social worker who is best equipped to detect negative circumstances at home or school and take the necessary steps to intervene, help and bring about positive change.

"When a teenager is in a really bad state and, for example, reverts to extreme measures, such as self-inflicted injuries, but firmly refuses to go for professional help and treatment, they can be forced to get help in terms of article 27 of the Mental Health Act," stresses Deyzel.

Schools must be educated

It is of utmost importance that schools are educated and trained to prevent suicide, stresses Deyzel. "One must remember that knowledge brings the power to prevent suicide." 

To this end, Deyzel has trained all social workers and psychologists of the Department of Education in the South Western district and Karoo region. Likewise, all the other teachers at a school in George and 30 NGO social workers of NGOs in George were educated.

Also read part one - Spotlight: Teen suicide - 6 things parents need to know

Also read part three - Spotlight: Teen suicide - How to cope

Do you have experience with teen depression, anxiety and/or suicide? Share your experience by emailing and we may publish your story. Should you wish to remain anonymous, please let us know.

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