The suicide of a teenager is devastating and often leaves family members and friends dumbstruck. The reason behind the tragedy of a life cut short is something that many survivors of suicide struggle long and hard with. For the parents it is often worse, as the loss of a child brings with it a sudden debilitating torment, often with no explanation or closure for their grief.
For most of us suicide is something that is very difficult to comprehend, but that sadly seems to be the choice that more and more of our youth are opting for. Suicide has become a tragedy that touches too many families.
If you are suicidal or know of anyone who is suicidal, the Depression and Anxiety Support Group can be contacted, Monday to Friday, Between 8am and 7pm, and on Saturdays, between 8am to 5pm, on (011)783 – 1474/6. According to Johannesburg psychologist Kevin Bolon, just having someone to talk to who listens and sits through the silences can be a great relief for people who are suicidal. In most cases the therapeutic value of this is that the more they discharge or unburden themselves, the less impetus they have to do any harm to themselves.
In the fight to prevent this growing social problem, education about suicide can be life saving. There is a lot that parents and teens can do:
Understand the risk factors for teen suicide
Ÿ Previous suicide attempts/current suicidal thoughts
Ÿ Psychiatric disorders (such as bipolar disorder, depression or impulsive aggressive behaviour)
Ÿ Drug and/or alcohol abuse
Ÿ Access to firearms
Ÿ Situational stress
Know the warning signs
Five warning signs of depression in teens:
Ÿ Sad, anxious or ‘empty’ mood
Ÿ Declining school performance
Ÿ Loss of pleasure/interest in social and sports activities
Ÿ Sleeping too little or too much
Ÿ Changes in weight or appetite
Five warning signs of bipolar disorder in teens
Ÿ Difficulty sleeping
Ÿ Excessive talkativeness, rapid speech, racing thoughts
Ÿ Frequent mood changes (both up and down), and/or irritability
Ÿ Increase in risky behaviour
Ÿ Exaggerated ideas of ability and importance
Three steps parents can take
Ÿ Get your child help (medical or mental health professional)
Ÿ Support your child (listen, avoid undue criticism, remain connected)
Ÿ Become informed (library, local support group, Internet)
Three steps teens can take
Ÿ Take your friend’s actions seriously
Ÿ Encourage friend to seek professional help, accompany if necessary
Ÿ Talk to an adult you trust. Don’t be alone in helping your friend.
This last point is of particular importance, as there seems to be a conspiracy of silence amongst teens surrounding suicide. We hear of suicidal teens confiding their intent to friends and making them promise not to tell. Teens who are not used to dealing with life and death situations may react with denial. Another factor at play is intense loyalty to one another which overrides common sense, the need for truth, and concerns about future consequences. What needs to be remembered here, though, is that although it may seem like squealing, it is for the safety of your friend.