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SUICIDE SILENCED, AS OUR IMAGE IS TO ‘DIE FOR’

There are just some things that we do not talk about. It is simply not done. Suicide is one of those things. It is too much of a sensitive subject to discuss. It is stigmatised, frightening, risky, can expose other skeleton’s in the cupboard and is simply, too close to death. Bury it, put it under the carpet or find some way to cover it up but just don’t make it the central focus of any serious intervention programme.

Perhaps the fear it triggers off in people, is the same one that kept sex education in a tightly sealed vault for so long. If you create too much awareness or talk about the subject too much, it will put ideas into the heads of our children?

Could it however, be a silence to protect societal communities? Do people prefer to not discuss the ugly reality of youth taking their own lives, for fear it will smear their own image, reputation, ethnic group, business, or socio-economic status? Will their parental or care-giving skills and capabilities, come under scrutiny? Often and sadly so, this sometimes is the underlying reason. Who exactly do we want to protect, our youth or our own ego based fears and positions?

Statements supporting depression in children attract much cynicism and disbelief. Children are not supposed to get depressed as this is reserved for adults. However, looking only at the situation in South Africa, with escalating poverty, crime, violence, unemployment and high anxiety levels, what do we see. Adults are having a hard time trying to keep it together. Children look to their caregivers for support, guidance and model their behaviour. Should their parents or caregivers be experiencing huge levels of anxiety, is it not logical that the children will be affected. Not only will their environment and caregivers’ behaviour affect them, but also, they are not emotionally, psychologically and physically equipped to handle adult problems.

Children are supposed to be focused on the ‘stuff’ of children, such as playing, experiencing and working at school but instead, they are living in environments that expose them to more than they can age-appropriately cope with.

Our school children are depressed and some have, or are, considering suicide. That’s the facts. Given the facts, what should be done to overcome the problem and prevent future cases of such wasted loss of precious, young lives? For those who prefer to discard such statements as inaccurate, information to support such assertions are necessary.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, research indicates that depression in children and adolescents, poses increased risk towards suicidal thoughts and acts. When alcohol or drug abuse is added to depression, the risk of possible suicide is increased.

Some of the latest findings suggest that depression is beginning much earlier in life than previously. In a study of 9 to 17 year old youngsters, more than 6 percent were found to be suffering from depression. The South African Depression and Anxiety Support group encourage the public to become more aware of the necessity of early diagnosis and treatment of depression. Telephone Counselling is offered by the group from Monday to Friday between 8.00 a.m. and 7.00 p.m. and on Saturday between 8.00 a.m. and 5.00 p.m. on the telephone number (011) 783-1474/6 or 884 1797. A project, which is actively being carried out by the group, is entitled, “Suicide shouldn’t be a Secret” and is offered to all interested schools in the Gauteng area. The focus of their endeavours in this respect, is to assist all persons who interact with youth, as well as the youth themselves, to become aware and knowledgeable in so far as depression and suicide is concerned.

What then, is the plan of action, should a caregiver suspect that their child or the person with whom they are associated, is suffering from depression. The most valuable advice that could be offered, is to seek a professional evaluation, diagnosis and treatment regimen from either a child psychologist, psychiatrist or family physician. The research information on this topic provided by the National Institute of Mental Health also suggests that, depression in children can persist into adulthood and is therefore, important to address immediately and comprehensively. Depression can also arise as a result of other illnesses such as diabetes.

It is also important, when depression in a youngster is suspected, to limit their access to lethal agents such as alcohol, firearms, medications as well as money. The National Institute of Mental Health states that in 1997, suicide was the third leading cause of death in 10 – 24 year olds. This should be enough to slap one out of the silence surrounding suicide. Depression prevents people, especially adolescents from thriving! Do something today to speak out and thus squash out depression and suicide!