Updated 18 August 2014

Depression and suicide – situation in SA

Depression involves pain, sadness and hopelessness, and when aggravated by stress or alcohol or drug abuse the risk of suicide increases greatly.

The tragic suicide by Robin Williams last week, rocked the world and many were asking how could this funny man commit suicide? He once said it is "like you are standing on a precipice and you look down."

As his death hit the SA media the chaos started, the callers, the media, the volunteers. Everyone wanted a reason for his suicide and while it is more true that physical illness can worsen the depression it is not explanatory, it is only an additional risk factor.

Read: Saliva test can predict depression in teenage boys

Suicidal depression involves pain, sadness and hopelessness that is impossible to describe, and when aggravated with stress or alcohol or drug abuse the suicide risk greatly increases. Everything is an incredible effort, all day through and all night. They feel there is no hope, no point, shame and nothing to look forward to.

Latest stats

So what was the response? Firstly, the media swamped us, wanting to know the exact situation in South Africa. The answer is: 23 completed suicides and 230 attempted suicides every day.

We were able to stress the importance of seeking treatment for depression and mental disorders and let sufferers know where to turn for help.

We expect well-informed treatment and access to care for cancer or heart disease, it should be the same for depression.

Someone who has recurrent episodes might recover from a bout of depression, be in a relatively stable mood then get depressed again, despite medication.

Read: Feel better in ten minutes

Sadly people who even get rehab, sometimes don't make it. There they feel safe and protected, but when they come out they may be overwhelmed by the world around them again

It is hard to predict who is going to attempt suicide, but there are signs and behaviours that call for immediate action.

Anyone talking about death or suicide, young or old are at risk. Today more older people are attempting suicide.

Warning signs are:

* Losing interest in life or loved ones.

* Feeling trapped desperate or anxious.

* Becoming angry and irritable.

* Having sleep problems.

* Contacting people to say goodbye, or discretely putting financial affairs in order.

* Giving away favourite things and possessions.

Read: Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

Robin Williams' death this week, is a reminder of the weight that depression can feel like. We hope more people will find the strength to call SADAG at 0800 12 13 14 and get help, care and support. Go to our website for more info, questionnaires, self-help tips and warning signs of depression and suicide.

Read more:

Teenage suicide goes up as unemployment rises
Childhood abuse slows depression recovery in adults
Robin Williams plagued by Parkinson's and depression

Image: Homeless man from Shutterstock

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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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