Updated 29 September 2015

Suicide threats not just passing phase

Suicidal tendencies in adolescents are often misinterpreted as a “passing phase”.


Suicidal tendencies in adolescents are often misinterpreted as a “passing phase” or common characteristics of adolescent development. Some parents dismiss suicide threats as manipulative tactics, born out of immaturity. Education about suicide can be life saving.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) statistics suggest that only one in ten children who make suicide threats will carry them out. They warn, however, that it cannot be predicted who will, or under what circumstances these threats may actually lead to a suicide attempt.

As a child gets older, suicide attempts become increasingly serious and at the same time, more likely to succeed.

It is often difficult to recognise suicidal ideation. It is rare for children to discuss their suicidal thoughts with others. In those children who do not verbalise their self-destructive thoughts, suicidal tendencies are best recognised by marked mood and behavioural changes that may have been observed by family and friends.

According to the SADAG, behavioural changes to look out for in troubled teens include:

  • declining school performance
  • extreme behaviour and mood change (persistent depression)
  • loss of previous interests
  • risk-taking behaviour
  • drug or alcohol use
  • social withdrawal
  • a break in a key relationship

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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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