CAPE TOWN - An estimated 23 suicides take place every day in South Africa, along with a total of 460 attempted suicides.
A recent report by the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) found that 9% of all teen deaths are due to suicide – and this figure is on the increase.
Statistics show that suicide is the second most common cause of death in people aged 15 to 29, but some children as young as six have been deemed suicidal.
Sadag media liaison Kayla Phillips said the organisation had received over 74 000 calls to its helpline since the beginning of this year, with figures showing young adults in general have been more prone to suicidal thoughts.
“Research indicated that 30.6% of students had thoughts of suicide in the past 12 months; 16.6% had made a suicide plan; and, 2.4% had attempted suicide.
“More than half (57.2%) of students who’d had thoughts of suicide in the past 12 months went on to make a suicide plan. And 19.1% of those who made a plan went on to attempt suicide.”
Deputy director of the SA Federation for Mental Health (SAFMH), Leon de Beer, explained that while there is no absolute reason for the high rates of suicide among young people in South Africa, some contributing factors include: high rates of underlying mental illnesses; loneliness; bullying; academic pressure; and, a history of childhood sexual or physical assault or violence.
“The factors and causes that lead to suicide are complex and many. However, there are some signs you can look out for including: someone talking about dying or other types of self-harm.
“People suffering a recent loss; a change in personality: sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, and apathetic; a change in behaviour; a change in sleep patterns: sleeping too much, or change in sleep habits; and, low self-esteem.”
De Beer said that often when a young person chooses to take their own life, there is an underlying and untreated mental health condition, usually depression. Importantly, many young people living with depression do not choose to end their life. Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable.
Founder of the I’ve Got You Project and social media campaigner, Wendy Smith, said misconceptions around suicide being a cognitive choice further perpetuated its stigmatisation within society.
“Suicide is not a choice, it is the final lethal symptom of a disease. The disease is a mental illness, which varies in degrees and forms.”
Smith said that adolescence and young adults are at a higher risk of suicide because 15% of all mental illness symptoms have occurred by the age of 14, and 75% of mental illness occur between ages 15-24.
Should you be a person suffering from suicidal thoughts, or are the loved one of a suicidal person, there are resources and help readily available for you. You may call the Sadag Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567, or SMS 31393. These numbers are free and counselling is available in all 11 official languages.