THE FARMERS HAVE A PESTICIDE FOR THE SUICIDE?
Just imagine if you could be a “fly on the wall”, or more appropriately, “a fly on the bush”, sitting out on some remote farmland. You overhear a discussion between two farmers out in the field, regarding the current season’s apple turnout, ready for delivery to the market. If these farmers, or ‘apple caretakers’ were to rely solely on the curative approach for a successful outcome, they would surely, be out of business by now. Their conversation would run something like this. “Hey Hennie, all the apples have been eaten by bugs. What’s the cure?” “Well Thabo, I’m not sure, but we sure can’t sell these rotten apples to the market!” Our whole income for the season is gonna be zero and with no money for food, we’re sure as dead. Maybe if we don’t talk about it and just put it out of our minds, the problem will just disappear.”
This is certainly not the way the scenario would be acted out. In reality, the truth is that farmers are well aware of the necessity of prevention. They understand that signs and symptoms of bad produce need immediate attention. They cannot afford to wait for the contamination or infiltration of bugs or insects and then run around ‘gung-ho’ trying to search for cures. Instead, they logically concentrate on affirmative plans of action to ensure the optimal results of their produce. Prevention is just so basic to their success.
The SOUTH AFRICAN DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY SUPPORT GROUP takes a strong stance on the issue of suicide. Their efforts to attack this pestilence with a ‘preventative insecticide,’ takes the form of ‘inoculating’ or ‘immunizing’ our youth.
Their programme is called “Suicide shouldn’t be a Secret” and involves educating children and their educators and is available to schools in Gauteng. The “insecticide to be sprayed” takes on the form of a depression and suicide prevention programme. The emphasis is on highlighting who is more at risk and how to recognise symptoms of depression. Special attention is given to the necessary steps required, in stamping out suicide ‘seeds’, before they grow into a tree of sorrow.
The attention-demanding message for all children, adolescents, educators, parents and persons interacting in community work, is that suicide is not like the Concorde that lands before you even realize it took off. Nor is it like a swarm of locusts that arrive unexpectedly in a black cloud. Specific signs and symptoms in the form of behavioural changes generally precede suicide thoughts and ideas. Happy, healthy youngsters do not want to die or have strong feelings to kill themselves. What causes our youth to think that life is not worth living?
One main contributory factor that can lead to suicidal intentions and actual acts, is depression. It can result in children and adolescents experiencing such overwhelming feelings of helplessness that they get ‘sucked’ into a whirlpool of absolute apathy.
The issue of depression in children, a particularly increasing problem in South Africa,
is fast becoming a serious situation to contemplate. When left undetected, the feelings of depression become more debilitating until they completely overwhelm all normal reasoning.
It is important to differentiate between “the blues”, which is a feeling experienced by every human being, at some point in their lives due to various life stressors and clinical depression. Clinical depression is associated with specific signs and symptoms, which persist over time. So then what is the pesticide to be used to prevent the ‘worm infestation’ and bugs of depression from eating away at our youth?
Step one requires that all persons dealing with youth become knowledgeable and prepared to deal with the issue openly and honestly. Hiding one’s head in sand will only blind us even further. In an article by Allen-Meares (1987) from the National Association of Social Workers Inc. in the United States, the author states that in the case of school-aged children, depressive syndromes can be disguised by emotional problems, excessive periods of sadness, reluctance to attend school, suicidal pre-occupation, conduct disorders, hyperactivity, high levels of anxiety and separation from caregiver stress. Adolescents, often display similar symptoms to those manifested by adults. Some of these include loss of interest, disturbed sleeping patterns, change in eating patterns, erratic emotionality, disinterest in normal daily activities, weight changes, anti-social behaviour and suicidal thoughts.
The second step is prevention programmes similar to the project being implemented by the Depression and Anxiety Support Group. The group has telephone lines manned by responsible volunteer lay-counsellors from Monday to Friday, 8.00 to 7.00 p.m. and Saturdays from 8.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. Their number are (011) 783-1474/6 or 884 - 1797. Problems need to be nipped in the bud before they surface and actions taken to prevent further dilemmas from arising. The group are able to provide telephone counselling and a comprehensive referral to professional persons in the mental health industry.
It is a sad fact that the South African community has such an uniformed view of the professionals involved in the mental health industry and the treatment available and choose only to consult with them when the problem has become insurmountable.
The solution is education about de-stigmatizing mental illness, early recognition and treatment.