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World Mental Health Day: '20% of SA high schoolers have attempted suicide'

Wednesday marks World Mental Health Day, an annual event to raise awareness about issues around mental health around the world.

Picture: EWN

JOHANNESBURG - Up 20% of high school pupils in the country have tried to take their own lives, according to the Psychiatry Management Group (PsychMG).

Wednesday, 10 October will be World Mental Health Day, an annual event to raise awareness about issues around mental health around the world.

This year's theme is 'Young people and mental health in a changing world'.

PsychMG also says one in 10 deaths of teenagers in South Africa are from suicide, but that many of these tragedies can be averted by paying attention to warning signals and risk factors, building emotional resilience, and taking suicide threats seriously.

“Most people with depression are not suicidal, but most suicidal people are depressed,” says Dr Sebolelo Seape, chairperson of PsychMG.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression is globally the third highest disease burden among adolescents, and suicide the second leading cause of death in 15 - to 29-year-olds, while the South
African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) states that 9% of teenage deaths in the country are due to suicide.

Dr Seape says the causes of depression and related mental illnesses in teenagers and young adults are multi-faceted: “There is the stressful nature of the teenage years – for some teenagers, the normal developmental changes of these years, such as bodily changes, new patterns of thoughts and feelings, can be unsettling and overwhelming.

“There are social changes too, like changing schools, the pressure of final exams, the prospect of leaving home to start tertiary studies or a job; as well as other stress factors such as family issues, changes in their friend networks, and the pressure to succeed.

“Problems appear too big, too difficult or embarrassing to overcome, and suicide may look like the only option,” she said.

She says warning signs and symptoms could include changes in eating and sleeping habits, loss of interest in usual activities, neglect of personal appearance or hygiene, withdrawal from friends and family, or running away from home.

“Some teenagers may actually pass verbal hints by talking about death and dying directly or indirectly, they may talk about wanting to die and begin to dispose of much-loved possessions, and they may write a suicide note.

“All threats of suicide must be taken seriously."

People wanting to help a depressed teenager could suggest that they talk to an external party like a teacher, doctor or counsellor, and offer to go with them for support. On any concerns of a suicide risk, she said, the person should be taken immediately to a clinic or emergency room.

If this article has raised issues for you or if you’re concerned about someone you know, call the South African Depression and Anxiety Group’s Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567.

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