It's Teen Suicide Prevention Week - Let's not turn it into a crisis
Here's some help
"I came home to a quiet house. Too quiet. My 14 year-old daughter's room was closed and locked, I couldn't get any answer from her so I went in search of Maggie. Maggie was hanging washing outside. She said Cheryl* had stormed into the house after school, thrown her lunch box across the kitchen screaming she was fat, and how could anyone pack a fat girl such a stupid lunch, then promptly burst into tears and locked herself in her room. I knew the quiet was too good to be true!"
Eleanor* felt the fear that many mothers, many parents, feel when faced with an irate teen. "There's always the fear that this time it's different, this time it isn't just a tantrum… This time it could be serious." With South Africa's teen suicide rate at 9.5% of all teen deaths, Eleanor's fears are not completely unfounded.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) runs the country's only toll-free suicide crisis line (0800 567 567) and takes calls from teens in distress.. "Many teens call or SMS our help line feeling a deep sense of unhappiness, and a lack of hope for the future", says SADAG's Cassey Amoore. These are some warning signs of a depressed teen. There are many reasons why teens are depressed. "Adolescence is a tough time. Teens worry about their school marks and their futures, they worry about what people think of them, they feel short of time and unable to fit in all their activities, they worry about their parents' relationship and the stability of their home lives", says teen wellness coach, Janine Shamos. The bottom line, say experts, is our youth are sometimes in trouble.
There are some scary statistics and research emerging about teen suicide. Sadly there is little research being done in South Africa but we can gleam valuable information from the American Association of Suicidology whose research has shown that most adolescent suicides occur after school hours and in the teen's home. We also know that globally most adolescent suicide attempts follow fights with friends or family. "Many teens who attempt or commit suicide have a psychiatric disorder, like depression, have frequent thoughts of suicide and death, display impulsive and aggressive behaviour, use alcohol or drugs, and may have experienced loss or conflict in the family", says Amoore.
This week is Teen Suicide Prevention Week and SADAG wants to let parents, teachers, and peers know that we don't need to let teen stress and depression become a crisis. There is some good news – there are things we can do to help and if we all get involved, we can prevent tragic loss of life. For information on courses and workshops, contact Cassey on 011 262 6396.
Here are some things you should know in order to decide whether your teen is throwing another tantrum or whether the problem is more serious.
If your teen has become withdrawn and socially isolated, his/her school performance and participation in sports has declined, he/she is neglecting their appearance, and has started giving possessions away, there could be cause for concern and it is advisable to get the help of a trained mental health professional as soon as possible. SADAG is open 7 days a week from 8am to 8pm on 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393.
If a teen is making verbal comments – I don’t want to be around any more – that should get your attention and you should take all threats seriously. "Many people think that teens who commit suicide don't talk about it", says Amoore, "Nothing could be further from the truth." First identify the situation your teen is in when he/she says these things – does it happen when he/she doesn't get what they want? Or after you lay out a punishment? Has it got to a point when you can predict when you'll hear it? Maybe it's random – while watching TV, in the car, talking about friends? If your teen has other danger signs, and makes comments about dying frequently, it's very important that the situation is taken seriously.
When speaking to your teen, remember not to offer simple solutions or tell him/her that there is no reason for them to be feeling a certain way. Adults tend to forget just how devastating the break up of a teen romance can be or that being bullyed and pushed into a puddle in the playground can have huge consequences for a teen's self-esteem. Always try to see things from your teen's perspective – and always err on the side of caution and get professional help.
Being a teen can be hard. Being a parent of a teenager can be just as challenging. Cheryl had sobbed herself to sleep and was safe but Eleanor wasn't taking another chance. She enrolled both of them in a life coaching workshop so together they could learn to cope with 'the teen years'.
Teen suicide is far too real a problem and SADAG is hoping that by getting everyone involved, teachers, parents, family, church groups South Africa can protect and nurture its youth and help them grow into strong, resourceful and happy adults.
Additional Warning Signs:
Increased SUBSTANCE (alcohol or drug) use
No reason for living comments
No sense of PURPOSE in life
ANXIETY, agitation, unable to sleep or sleeping all the time and not wanting to get up
Feeling TRAPPED - like there's no way out
WITHDRAWING from friends, family and community
Rage, uncontrolled ANGER, seeking revenge
Acting RECKLESS or engaging in risky activities, seemingly without thinking
Dramatic MOOD changes
The Warning Signs of Suicide:
An Easy-to-Remember Mnemonic:
IS PATH WARM?
I Ideation (thoughts)
S Substance Abuse
M Mood Change