Updated 17 February 2014

Teen suicide: Why do they want to die?

National Teen Suicide Prevention Week aims to educate the public about teen suicide and experts answer burning questions as to why this is an ongoing trend.


Research shows that 1 in 5 teens has considered suicide and almost 17% have formulated a plan to take their lives. The teen years can be emotionally turbulent and stressful.

For many teens suffering from depression, loneliness and isolation are part of their daily struggle. “I felt so alone, like no one could ever understand what I was going through. I started asking myself if I was being pathetic and dramatic.”

Teens face pressures to succeed, fit in, family and financial stress, loss and trauma, and many struggle with self-esteem issues, self-doubt, and feelings of alienation.

“Very concerning is that 60% of youth who have a mental health problem like depression, anxiety or trauma, don’t get the help they need”, says SADAG’s Cassey Chambers.

National Teen Suicide Prevention Week

The 16th February marks the start of National Teen Suicide Prevention Week. The aim of this annual awareness week is to educate the public about the warning signs of depression which can lead to suicide in teens.

Read: Suicidal teens become abusive adults

The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) runs the national teen suicide prevention line (0800 567 567 or SMS 31393) which is open 7 days a week. In South Africa, 9.5% of teen deaths are due to suicide. According to Researcher Prof Schlebusch, the 15-19 year age group is most at risk for suicide.

Unbearable pain and suffering

Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape unbearable pain and suffering. “Blinded by feelings of self-loathing, hopelessness, and isolation, a severely depressed person can't see any way of finding relief except through death”, explains psychologist Liane Lurie.

“They wish there was an alternative to committing suicide, but they just can't see one.” This is why SADAG’s teen suicide prevention programme, and National Teen Suicide Prevention Week, is so vital – it gives teens hope for an alternative.

Through SADAG’s national school-based programme, “Suicide shouldn’t be a secret”, approximately 700 000 teens have been made aware of the signs, symptoms of depression and suicide, and critically, how to intervene.

Read: Learn about the warning signs of teen suicide and how to act if your child is in trouble.

Knowing what to look for

“We know that many teen suicides could have been prevented if people knew what to look for”, says Chambers who says that SADAG often hears stories of teens who told friends about wanting to die, but were not taken seriously.

There are so many youth who suffer in silence, scared of being judged, unsure how to talk about how they are feeling. Often, families are the last to know. TV personality, Sade Gilliberti, knows this from first-hand experience.

One of the hardest things to do is speak to a depressed teen – they are moody and emotional – and many people feel uncomfortable with the topic of suicide.

Shrouded in secrecy

People don’t communicate openly about suicide with the result that suicide is left shrouded in secrecy.

“Many youth wonder if it’s a good idea to say anything to a friend if you notice something wrong”, says Chambers. “They worry about their friend becoming angry but it is always better to risk the friendship than to risk the friend. Get help before someone you care about does something that can’t be reversed.”

Read: How to curb the increase in teen suicides

Suicide warning signs in teens:

  • Change in eating and sleeping habits

  • Withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities

  • Violent or rebellious behaviour, running away

  • Drug and alcohol use

  • Unusual neglect of personal appearance

  • Persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating, or a decline in the quality of schoolwork

  • Frequent complaints about physical symptoms, often related to emotions, such as stomach-aches, headaches, fatigue etc.

  • Any talk about suicide, dying, or self-harm, such as "I wish I hadn't been born," "If I see you again..." and "I'd be better off dead."

  • Seeking access to guns, pills, knives, or other objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.

  • Unusual focus on death, dying, or violence. Writing poems or stories about death.

  • Feelings of worthlessness, guilt, shame, and self-hatred. Feeling like a burden ("Everyone would be better off without me").                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           
 If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, or if you would like to find out more about teen suicide prevention week, please contact SADAG Meryl, Cassey or Naazia on 0800 567 567 or 011 262 6396 or visit them

Read more:
SA teens: high suicide risk
Take action against teen suicide
Suicide rates high in SA teens





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