Teen suicide, although not often spoken about, is increasingly becoming a wide-spread cause of death amongst teenagers. “Suicide is the second most common cause of death in the 15 – 24 age group and the incidence is rising,” confirms Cassey Chambers of SADAG (South African Depression and Anxiety Group).
Statistics also show that 29% of teenagers in South Africa have attempted to commit suicide. By knowing the causes, warning signs and risk factors of teen suicide you will be able to identify any unusual behaviour amongst your friends, manage your own feelings and care for the people around you.
What Causes Teen Suicide?
But, why exactly do teenagers feel the need to take their own lives? Could it be that peer pressure (bullying) and depression is far too common among school-goers? There are many reasons why teenagers commit suicide, often to take action against something or to express their emotions about a particular situation. Durban-based psychologist, Trainer and Coach, Claire Newton says that there are many causes of teen suicide, with the main cause often being depression. Make sure you are aware of the following causes:
Depression – This is the main cause of suicide. Depression makes people feel helpless and hopeless and they often see no reason to live. People who are thinking about suicide generally feel alone and isolated. They often feel that no one understands them and how they feel. Suidice is seen as a way to escape unbearable loneliness.
Alcohol and drug use – Alcohol is a depressant and it can make an already depressed teenager even worse. This is true of some drugs as well. Both alcohol and drugs can affect a person’s judgement and lessen their self-control. Alcohol and drug use is often connected to suicide.
Bullying – this is a common problem in schools. Children and teens who are bullied can have a very low self-esteem – they feel useless, worthless and hopeless. When teens become the target of physical or cyber bullying they can easily become very depressed and even attempt suicide. Many suicidal teens feel they have no control of their lives and see suicide as a way to gain control.
Weight gain – This goes hand in hand with bullying and teenagers who are overweight feel ashamed and worthless, especially when being the target of negative comments. Suicide is also seen as a way to escape the shame.
Self-injury – Many teens hurt themselves as a way of coping with problems. Of course, this is not a healthy way to deal with problems and seeking help is a far more effective way of dealing with these problems. Teens that cut or hurt themselves are not always suicidal, but can be. Some teens may commit suicide to punish themselves for something they think they did wrong.
Poor academic results – Some teens commit suicide because they have performed poorly in their exams. They are ashamed and believe that they have let their family down. Many teens commit suicide to escape a difficult problem or situation, or get relief from terrible stress. Whether it’s school-related or is linked to family unrest, some teens feel the need to remove themselves from the horrible situation.
Death of a loved one – Most people feel depressed after the death of a loved one – a family member, a friend or even a beloved pet. Suicide is seen as a way to reunite with their loved ones and avoid the emotional pain of grief.
Myths About Suicide
There are sometimes stereotypes linked to suicide amongst teenagers, in that people believe that they are looking for attention, or just saying certain things for fun or ‘finding the easy way out!’ Claire suggests that you take note of the following myths about teen suicide.
- If they failed in an attempt before it means they don’t want to succeed.
“Not true. They just got it wrong or got found out too early. Chances are that they will try again,” says Claire.
- Suicidal people don’t want to live.
“Not true. With the exception of some terminally-ill people most suicidal people do want to live. They just believe they can’t cope; can’t see a solution to their difficulties or believe others will be better off without them,” explains Claire.
- Deep religious faith makes suicide impossible.
“Not true. Religious people are not immune to depression and other emotional problems,” says Claire.
- Those who threaten suicide won’t carry it out – it’s just a cry for attention.
“Not true. Although those who keep their plans secret are more predisposed to lethal intent, those who threaten suicide very often do carry it out,” confirms Claire.
PLEASE NOTE: All suicide threats must be taken seriously and addressed accordingly.
Warning Signs of Suicide - Quizz
Are you or a friend at risk? Answer YES/NO to the questions below:
Are you withdrawn from friends and family, and have no interest in doing anything?
- Do you have excessive feelings of guilt, self-blame and failure?
- Have you lost interest in your appearance, and do you lack personal hygiene?
- Have you noticed changes in your personality?
- Are you constantly saying things like “I can’t do anything right”, “I’m totally useless” or “I’m hideous and pathetic?”
- Are you writing or painting about death?
- Are you engaging in risky behaviour such as: drunken driving, playing suicidal games (such as suffocation games), taking drugs or practicing promiscuous unprotected sex?
- Do you find yourself joking about suicide?
If you answered YES to less than three questions you should: Tell someone how you are feeling – a friend, a parent, a teacher, a priest or minister, or a youth group counsellor. Consult a doctor or a psychologist – depression is treatable.
If you answered YES to three or more questions you should: Make sure you are not alone. Consult a doctor or psychologist and tell people close to you how you are feeling. You can also phone the following organisations and ask for help:
- LifeLine South Africa – 082-231-0805
- Child Line – 08000 55 555
- The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) on 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393.
(Seven days a week – 8am to 8pm)