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Concern over rate of teen depression and suicide

One in four South African teens have attempted suicide and one in three hospital admissions for suicide involve youth.

South Africa has the eighth highest rate of suicide in the world, with approximately more than 8 000 people committing suicide each year, according to the South African Federation for Mental health. 

“Based on this, suicide is the third greatest cause of unnatural death in the country. In South Africa alone, there are 23 completed suicides – almost one per hour – and 230 attempted suicides every day,” the federation said in a press release today, World Suicide Prevention Day.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) one out of three suicides in South Africa happen in Gauteng and a one and a half times increase in suicidal deaths have been seen in the rural Eastern Cape in the former Transkei over the past five years.

Sadag says two thirds of all suicide victims are aged between 20 and 39 and there are 4.6 male suicides for every female suicide.

According to Sadag there is an “increasingly concerning rate of teen depression and suicide”: 1 in 4 South African teens have attempted suicide and 1 in 3 hospital admissions for suicide involve youth. Yet, most schools don’t have counsellors or psycho-social support systems in place, the organisation says.

Research has shown that there are many psycho-social factors that could play a role, such as untreated mental illness, substance abuse, family problems, trauma, rape and poverty, which all have the potential of contributing to a person feeling suicidal.

The SA Mental Health Federation says about 70% of those that have committed suicide often give warning signs. “Some of the warning signs are; talking or thinking about death often, clinical depression, the loss of interest in things one used to care about, putting affairs in order, a sudden change in behaviour, unexpected switch from being very sad to being very calm or appearing to be happy, visiting or calling people to say goodbye and giving away possessions,” the federation says.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) have found in international studies that despite the alarming findings about the prevalence of suicide, suicide all too often fails to be a prioritised public health problem globally and those that seek help at public health services are often not provided with effective and efficient help.

According to SADAG 75% of South Africans will not get the mental health treatment they need.

More suicide facts:

  1. 10% of all non-natural deaths in adults and 9.5% in youth are due to suicide.
  2. +/- 23 a day, virtually one every hour.
  3. There were 4.6 male suicides for every one female suicide.
  4. Less than 1% of mental hospital beds are for children and adolescence.
  5. 70% of South Africans who attempted suicide had a mental health disorder.

Source: Sadag

Mia Malan is the founder and editor-in-chief of Bhekisisa. She has worked in newsrooms in Johannesburg, Nairobi and Washington, DC, winning more than 30 awards for her radio, print and television work.