South Africa has seen a significant increase in teen deaths and the reality is that 9% of all teen deaths are due to suicide – and this figure is on the increase. Suicide is the fastest growing cause of death amongst teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 – 24. But children as young as 7 years are now committing suicide in South Africa the question is why?
According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), South Africa’s largest mental health initiative, 90% of adolescents who die by suicide have an underlying mental illness. SADAG says teens are depressed and often have no one to turn to for support. This, combined with a lack of resources, family problems, poverty and loss, suicide all too often seems to be the only answer for these children.
Interestingly enough, studies have shown that spending time on the internet and cellphone chat services reduce social involvement, increase social isolation and increased loneliness and depression.
Bullying is also a very big contributor to suicidal tendencies. Bullying is abusive behaviour by one or more learners against a victim. The result is the victim becomes socially rejected and isolated. Physical or psychological intimidation creates an ongoing pattern of harassment and abuse, the vicious cycle of bullying. Children and teens who are bullied feel anxious, tense and afraid. It affects their concentration at school and results in a drop in school performance.
Recent research has indicated that people who have experienced abuse in childhood are more likely to attempt or commit suicide than those people who hadn’t. While mental health professionals have long suspected there to be a link between abuse and suicide, this research shows the trends strongly and could provide some hope for early warning and detection of children and teens at risk.
Another major instigator to suicide amongst young people is the pressures of having to perform well during exams or in school in general. Distance Education Service Provider, Brainline, has called on parents and guardians to be vigilant in observing the behaviour of learners on receipt of their reports. Coleen Cronje, Chief Executive Officer of Brainline says with suicide trends rising during this particular period, it is important that parents regularly interact with their children.
‘The most important factor for parents to keep in mind is neither to overreact nor to start blaming the school or teachers for poor results. A poor report card is not the end of the world and parents should play an active role in providing perspective to their children. Parents should create an environment of acceptance to shield their children from these pressures. It is important to focus on cultivating a culture of understanding and when a problem arises, the parents, the child and the school should combine efforts to address the challenge ,’ she says.
A recent medical study by the Swedish National Board of Health and Welfare found that receiving poor grades in school is associated with an increased risk of suicide at a young age. (https://psychcentral.com/news/2010/10/27/poor-grades-linked-to-higher-risk-of-suicide/20178.html) Cronje says it is critical to ascertain what the cause for the poor results could be and act accordingly.
‘Now is the time to let logic prevail and pinpoint why the child received a poor report card or failed his or her grade. It might be a very simple reason such as difficulty with learning or reading. The sooner one can establish the reason for the child’s learning disabilities; the quicker it can be effectively addressed.’
‘Depending on the school or institution, there might be options for a supplementary exam or an opportunity to submit a project that was due during the course of the year. At Brainline we give our students the unique opportunity to apply for supplementary exams, early in the following educational year to allow them to improve their grades.’
Cronje says parents should also use the opportunity to remind their children that a report card is not the full picture when it comes to their worth as a human being. She says intelligence can be segmented into 9 different categories, which at times is not reflected in a mere report card.
‘Some children excel in other areas depending on their personality type which may include musical intelligence, logical–mathematical intelligence, linguistic intelligence, intra–personal intelligence and spatial intelligence. It is critical to establish what your child’s strong and weak points are and also into which category of intelligence they fall so that you can cultivate that particular trait.’
Brainline is a leader in home education and has provided structured home education on a distance education model to thousands of learners since 1987. It is also recognised by the IEB as an examination center.
Bullying – What can parents do?
- Be open to the possibility that your child may be being bullied
- If you suspect something may be wrong – ask
- Listen to your child
- Take him/her seriously
- Never blame the child – it is not their fault
- Reassure them they were right in telling you
- Don’t promise to keep it a secret
- Discuss practical ways to solve the problem
- Teach self-confidence, assertiveness and social skills
- Enrol kids in extra mural activities to help them widen their social circle
- Encourage family discussion rather than just watching tv
- Never expect kids to work it out on their own
- Talk to teachers and other parents – if there’s one bullied kid, there will be others.
Warning Signs of Depression
- Loss of interest in fun activities
- Sadness that won’t go away
- Feeling irritable or angry a lot
- Eating too much or too little
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Missing school
- Having trouble making decisions
- School marks drop
- Thinking a lot of dying or killing yourself
Warning Signs of Suicide
- Talking about suicide
- Preparing for death – giving things away, saying goodbye
- Drastic changes in personality
- Risk-taking behaviour – drinking and driving
- Writing poems, essays about death or painting images of death