- “Nothing matters.”
- “I wonder how many people would come to my funeral?”
- “Sometimes, I wish I could just go to sleep and never wake up.”
- “Everyone would be better off without me.”
- “You won’t have to worry about me much longer.”
These are RED FLAGS and warrant your immediate attention – seek professional help right away.
The good news: Suicide is preventable. Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable mental disorders.
The bad news: Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death for children and young people 10 to 24 years old. One study says, “In teenagers, depression is considered a major – if not the leading – cause of teen suicide.”
- Suicide is when a teen causes his or her own death on purpose.
- Thoughts of wanting to die are called suicidal ideation.
- Suicidal behaviour is a teen is focused on doing things that cause his or her own death.
Most people who have suicidal thoughts do not make suicide attempts, but suicidal thoughts are considered a risk factor.
Among teenagers, suicide attempts may be associated with feelings of stress, self-doubt, the pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, disappointment, and loss. For some teens, suicide may appear to be a solution to their problems.
- Depression, anxiety, and other mental health disorders
- Loss – loved one, pet, friend, parent divorce, school change or relocation
- Conflict with parents, siblings, friends
- Perfectionism/pressure from self or parents
- Being uncertain of sexual orientation/ LGBT
- Problems with alcohol or drugs
- History of sexual or physical abuse or exposure to violence
- Low self-esteem & Bullying
- Medical problems, for example, unplanned pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease -HIV
- Academic struggles – failing grades, not coping
- Teens lacking social and family support, dysfunctional families with child neglect, domestic violence
- Family history of mental health disorders
- Talking or writing about suicide — for example, making statements such as “I’m going to kill myself,” or “I won’t be a problem for you much longer.”
- Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation
- Withdrawing from social contact & isolation
- Having mood swings
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Changing the normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns
- Neglecting one’s personal appearance
- Doing risky or self-destructive things
- Giving away belongings when there is no other logical explanation for why this is being done
- Loss of interest in school or schoolwork
- Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above
- Becomes suddenly cheerful after being depressed – a big red flag. Often, a person who has been contemplating suicide experiences a lift in the mood once they decide to do it. The final decision takes them out of the dark hole, and while everyone around them thinks they are better now- they have actually just decided now is the time to end it.
”Time heals all wounds” is a fallacy,
it is only something people say when the cut was just skin-deep.
Strong family connections – a child with the support and someone they can go to for help, are less likely to harm themselves. Always nurture your children, foster open communication and show you love them in word (praise & encouragement, ‘’I love you’’) and deed (hugs & kisses).
Teach your child how to solve problems. Children that can figure out ways to solve problems (be it resolving conflict or coping strategies) are at lower risk of feeling hopeless and becoming suicidal.
Make it easy for your child to reach out and get help. Access to a psychiatrist, a psychologist, support groups or online text-based helplines helps them feel they are not alone and assistance is available. Do not prevent your child from access to prescription medication that can alleviate symptoms of depression. Many young people hide symptoms of depression from parents because their parents do not believe in mental illness or medication, or parents blame their children for draining their medicals aid funding because of their mental health doctors’ visits.
Restrict their access to highly lethal means of suicide. Nearly 50% of teens who commit suicide do so by using a gun.
Cherish cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and that support self-preservation.
Source: Childmind.org – Teen suicides
Being lost and neglected – without substantial parental or elderly guidance, young people want to do things their way, but they don’t have enough skills or wisdom to make good choices. 70% of young children in SA grow up in single-parent families. Often parents are not equipped or skilled to deal with youth problems, or they are too wrapped up in their own struggles to survive.
Growing up in dysfunctional families – a toxic family kills a child’s hope of things ever-changing for the better. Many young people feel suicidal because of being stuck in a family that harms them instead of nurturing and supporting them. Especially damaging are families where there are domestic violence, drug abuse and mental illness.
Loss of interest in schooling and dropping out – most often caused by the lack of nurturing in a dysfunctional family environment, because children eventually lose interest in life. Another problem is that children in almost 80% of South African schools receive an education among the very worst in the world. 55% never finish their primary education. On top of that, the government announced plans in 2018 to cut Basic education phase funding by approximately R 7 billion over the next three financial years – one of their worst ideas ever.
Criminal gangs terrorize and manipulate young people to join them – it leads to drug addiction, pregnancy and drop in school attendance and interest. Young people experience a lot of peer pressure, seldom pushing them in a constructive direction. Pregnancy rates among teens girls are steady every year, with an average of 100 000 babies born per year. A lack of knowledge, don’t care attitude by mothers of teen girls and lack of access to contraception are contributing problems. Many teen girls don’t know where to go for contraception, and they are scared nurses will tell their mothers.
Lack of finance to complete their primary education and then move on to tertiary education may be a skills program, college or university.
Lack of study and career guidance: Wrong subject choices limit them in career choices and choosing fields of study that are already saturated too (for examples law, psychology, tourism). This can cause them to stay unemployed despite having a degree. Many can’t find internships which allow them to finish the practical side of their studies.
A government that considers the majority of our youth incapable of succeeding on own merit and continues to implement laws and notable exceptions for young people of certain races – is giving young people the message that they are weak, second class citizens that must be protected. The system that was implemented to ‘’help’’ you get ahead might hold you back. Many young people have developed a sense of entitlement because of this, and they are not motivated to do whatever it takes to succeed. The world is a tough place, and only those prepared to get out of their comfort zones succeed.
Be present, listen & observe
Teens often shy away from talking to their parents, and it is challenging for parents to know what their teen feels or thinks. Parents are busy and caught up in their own lives and can easily miss the red flags that pop up telling you something is off with your child.
Make time for your child, especially when you feel you don’t have time. Listen to what they say or not say, without interrupting. Put down your cell phone when you listen and talk. You never want to give your child the impression that other things are more important than them. Always encourage open communication and be careful about how you react. Does it encourage the child to open up more or close up? Take note of how the child’s physical appearance – is there something different?
Questions to ask: “You seem sad. Would you like to talk about it? Maybe I can help. How long have you been feeling like this?”
Take talk about depression seriously.
If your child tells you they feel depressed – get him/her professional help. Sometimes a child has a bad day, but many bad days mean they are not coping. Never let mental health problems snowball – the sooner the child is evaluated and treated, the less the disruption in their lives. Depression is not something that goes away. It is also not just a phase of teenage melodrama. Please take note of it and act on it.
Questions to ask: ‘’How can I help? I see you are really hurting inside. What would help to take the pressure off now? Have you ever thought of speaking to someone for help? A professional person?’’
Create an atmosphere where you also open up & share feelings
Share your feelings. Let your teen know he or she is not alone. You are there for them, and you care about them. You can say that everyone feels sad or depressed or anxious now and then, including moms and dads. It is okay for them to say if they are not coping. You will help get him/her professional help.
Encourage your teen not isolate him or her from family and friends. One of the symptoms of depression is to withdraw from life. It’s usually better to be around other people than to be alone. But don’t push if he says no.
Physical activity as simple as walking or as vigorous as pumping iron can put the brakes on mild to moderate depression.
Safely store firearms, alcohol and medications. Access to means can play a role if a teen is already suicidal.
What are warnings signs of feeling suicidal? Do the Quiz and learn more. Suicide Quiz
You can chat to an online counsellor on our helpline: LIVE CHAT.
It is a text-based chat and you may remain anonymous.