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Updated 05 January 2016

Why are people in SA trying to kill themselves?

There are 230 serious attempts at suicide in South Africa daily, while 23 people kill themselves. An expert explains why mental health issues need to be addressed especially in males.

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In South Africa there are 23 suicides a day recorded and 230 serious attempts, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag).

These alarming figures indicate that we have quite a sick community in the country, Dr Darren Green told News24Live in an interview.

Infographic- the warning signs of teen suicide

He said that the suicide incidents could relate to crime and violence-based activities or might be linked to mental health.

"You can't separate the social circumstances from the effects in behaviour and mental health because you have a genetic component where people are predisposed to things like depression and anxiety; for example with a shortage of a neurotransmitter in the brain.

Read: SA's troubled teens want to see blood

"But you also have the effects of chronic stress and the environment, a highly-pressurised standard of living at the moment in different communities in our country that add to the flavour of developing mood disorders and mental health issues."

Dr Green noted that the staggering amount of attempted suicides a day indicates that it is a significant problem.

"What we need to be looking at is why there is such a frequency of males as well that are successful at committing suicide and a lot of that focus is based on the fact that tough 'boys don't cry' and 'men don't talk about their feelings' etc."


He noted that women in general are prone to depression.

"A lot of us tease each other about the stigma of women being in touch with their emotions and feminine side and wanting to talk about things but exactly that is what is lacking by males ...  they don't want to talk about their stresses, moods, feeling low and not coping.

"When your compensatory mechanisms of handling the stresses of daily life are exhausted, who do you turn to as a man and why do we not like feeling vulnerable?"

Read: Doctors often miss suicide warning signs

A lot of this, said Dr Green is based on how men are brought up about only showing they are strong and not displaying any vulnerabilities. "I think we need to de-stigmatise all the myths around it being a sign of weakness."

Dr Green said that unemployment, a lock of education and decent housing are contributing factors of emotional stress.

"The direct ability to influence mindsets regarding mental health and mood and depression and all these things is something that actually needs to be addressed from grassroots level. We need psycho-education but we also need to remove the fear of dealing with emotions and talking about them."

He recommended that South Africans start making a difference in their own homes where conversations need to be facilitated around both female and male children. Dr Green said they should feel comfortable and know that their is a safe environment where they can actually disclose and talk about issues like being bullied at school, fear of writing an exam or anxiety of standing up for an oral.

Watch: Dr Frans Korb explains wow does stigma impact men with depression

According to Sadag, the following are danger signals of suicide:

Previous suicide attempts:

Between 20 and 50 percent of people who kill themselves had previously attempted suicide. Those who have made serious suicide attempts are at a much higher risk for actually taking their lives.

Talking about death or suicide:

People who commit suicide often talk about it directly or indirectly. Sometime those contemplating suicide talk as if they are saying goodbye or going away.

Planning for suicide:

Suicidal individuals often arrange to put their affairs in order. They may give away articles they value, pay of debts or a mortgage on a house, or change a will.

Depression:

Although most depressed people are not suicidal, most suicidal people are depressed. Serious depression can be manifested in obvious sadness, but often it is expressed instead as a loss of pleasure or withdrawal from activities that had once been enjoyable.

Additional factors that point to an increased risk for suicide in depressed individuals are:

- Extreme anxiety, agitation, or enraged behaviour
- Excessive drug and/or alcohol use or abuse
- History of physical or emotional illness or withdrawal from crowds
- Feelings of hopelessness or desperation

Also read:

Death wish: I just wanted to end it all

SA teens: High suicide risk

Why people kill themselves

 
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