Depression

Updated 23 June 2014

SA teens: High suicide risk

In South Africa, research has indicated that one in five teens thinks about harming themselves, with 7.8% of these youths actually attempted suicide before.

In South Africa, research has indicated that one in five teens thinks about harming themselves, with 7.8% of these youths actually attempted suicide before, while 57.7% of the sample had told someone of their intentions to end their lives.

This is according to statistics released by the Depression and Anxiety Support Group (DASG).

Other studies have found that 24.5% of attempted suicide cases amongst black South Africans have occurred in youths aged 17 and below. A total of 34% of black youths have considered suicide as an option in response to stressful life situations, such as divorce of their parents, conflict and love/relationship problems.

Why are adolescents so vulnerable?
Adolescents have to deal with physical, social and academic changes and may thus easily feel overwhelmed. At this age they need to form a separate identity from their primary family group, often resulting in self-doubt, uncertainty and low self-esteem.

“For some adolescents returning to school is filled with potential anxiety. The uncertainty of a new year, in a new class, with different classmates, is fraught with feelings of loneliness and the pressure to ‘fit in’ and re-establish relationships. The transition from primary to secondary school is often a change that many already vulnerable teenagers find difficult to cope with,” according to a DASG press release.

A Johannesburg psychologist quoted in the press release states, “unresolved conflicts from childhood often surface in this period. In fact, the early symptoms and signs of psychological disorders often first emerge in late adolescence (15-18 years).”

What are the risk factors?
The DASG states that youngsters who commit suicide are more likely to come from a “broken home” or one in which there is significantly poor parent-child communication.

Psychiatric diagnoses are present in about 90% of all suicides. The underlying cause is almost always depression. Depressive disorders alone or in combination with aggressive behaviour and/or substance abuse or anxiety are found in over half of all suicides.

Other risk factors include:

  • previous suicide attempts/current suicidal thoughts
  • access to firearms
  • situational stress

 

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Depression expert

Michael Simpson has been a senior psychiatric academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries, having worked at London University in the UK; McMaster University in Canada; Temple University in Philadelphia, USA.; and the University of Natal in South Africa.

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