10 October 2006

Focus on high suicide rates

South Africa has the eighth highest teenage suicide rate in the world. We look at suicide and mental illness on World Mental Health Day.

South Africa has the eighth highest teenage suicide rate in the world, according to research by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Another study indicates that one in five teenagers think about harming themselves, and 7,8% of these youths have previous suicide attempts.

Worldwide, over one million people die by suicide each year, representing 1.4% of the global health burden. Non-fatal self-inflicted injuries are probably at least 20 times greater than completed suicides.

Reducing risk
In many cases, suicide represents a tragic consequence of failing to recognise and treat severe mental illness. Studies from both developed and developing countries show a high prevalence rate of mental illness among those who die by suicide. The WHO estimates that 90% of people completing a suicide have at least one (often undiagnosed and untreated) mental illness, including drug or alcohol abuse. While the vast majority of persons with a mental illness will not die by suicide, good mental health care and mental health promotion can reduce the risk of suicide among people with a mental illness.

World Mental Health Day is an opportunity for improving public awareness, reducing stigma and discrimination and for promoting service and policy delivery to address the impact that suicide associated with mental illness has on the global burden of disease.

Focusing the theme for this year’s campaign on mental illness and suicide sends a powerful message to counter the all too often held perception that mental illnesses are a secondary health concern that can be delayed until more immediate and pressing health care issues have been addressed. Left untreated, mental illnesses can be fatal, and thus they must be addressed as an issue of utmost importance.

Mental illness or psychiatric disability, like physical illnesses, can be successfully treated. Most people (approximately 80%) can return to living stable and productive lives. However, the myths and stigma around mental illness prevent approximately two-thirds of people who have a mental illness from seeking the help they need.

Useful resources

Mental Health Information Centre:
Plays an active role in providing information on and conducting academic and clinical research trials for conditions such as obsessive compulsive, panic, posttraumatic stress, social anxiety and generalized anxiety disorders. Their work also covers the mood, psychotic, dementia and related disorders, as well as other major psychiatric diagnoses.
(021) 938 9229

Cape Mental Health
Cape Mental Health Society is committed to the promotion and maintenance of mental health through its Public Education programme.

Their services include:

  • Individual and group counselling services and life skills programmes to communities throughout the City of Cape Town.
  • Fountain House, a vocational rehabilitation facility that provides comprehensive rehabilitation services to over 300 people with mental illness each year.
  • The Rainbow Foundation, a community based psychosocial rehabilitation support group programme for individuals with a mental illness.
  • A unique psycho-legal programme that provides victims of sexual abuse with intellectual disabilities with access to justice, in that they are assisted to be witnesses in court.
  • Four special day-care centres for children with severe intellectual disabilities in disadvantaged communities.
  • An award-winning distance learning course in developmental disability.
  • Training Workshops Unlimited - five community-based training centres to enable 480 adults with intellectual disability to gain a range of work skills.
Visit our Mind Zone

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