According to a 2013 report by the The Medical Nutritional Institute, “South Africa participated in the WHO’s World Mental Health Survey and has been found to have the dubious honour of having the 7th-highest prevalence of mental disorders in the world.”
It is not only the adults who are suffering, The number of young children who kill themselves in South Africa is staggering. According to the South African Anxiety and Depression Group (Sadag), “suicide is the leading cause of death in youth aged 15-29. In South Africa, suicide accounts for 9,5% of all unnatural teen deaths”.
Sadag Operations Director Cassey Chambers said in a statement released in February that “too many teens are taking their lives and more needs to be done to prevent this needless tragedy”.
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There are many reasons why teenagers commit suicide. HealthyPlace, a website for mental wellness, says some of these reasons include feelings of helplessness. Teenagers are usually “trying to escape feelings of pain, rejection, hurt, being unloved, victimisation or loss,” it says.
Speaking on the Koketso Sechane show on Cape Talk Radio, Child Psychiatrist Dr David Ben said although it is is rare for preteen children to take their own lives, when it does happen, it is due to depression.
“It is possible – just very unusual and very unlikely. Suicidal behaviour before puberty, before about 12, is very uncommon and it is always associated with severe depression,” he says.
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Here is what parents can do in order to look after their children:
Create a space for your children to talk to you
Ben says you need to make it safe for your child to be able to talk about their feelings and problems.
Look out for a history of depression in the family
It is more likely for a child to have depression if there is a parent who suffers from it, says Ben.
Be aware of a change in happiness
Most children are able to elicit joy and happiness from almost anything. Ben says parents need to look out for signs that their child no longer looks joyful and expresses joy. Parents also need to be aware of changes in academic performance and interest in extra-curricular activities.
Other signs to look out for
Red flags include your child becoming withdrawn and isolating themselves, as well as not sleeping well or eating properly, according to Ben.
Additional reporting: Cape Talk Radio, Healthy Place, South African Anxiety and Depression Group, The Sunday Times