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What is suicide? 

Suicide is defined as the act of deliberately taking your own life, and globally it is among the top three causes of death for young people aged 15 to 34.

The following may be warning signs for suicide in young people:

Talking about dying: any mention of dying, disappearing, or other types of self-harm.

Suffering a recent loss: through death, divorce, separation, broken relationship, self-esteem, hobbies or activities previously enjoyed.

Change in Personality: sad, withdrawn, irritable, anxious, tired, indecisive, apathetic.

Change in Behaviour: inability to concentrate on school, work or routine tasks.

Change in Sleep Patterns: sleeping too much or too little, or having frequent nightmares.

Change in Eating Habits: eating too much or too little, weight gain or weight loss.

Low self-esteem: feeling worthless, shame, overwhelming guilt, self-hatred.

No hope for the future: believing things will never get better, or that nothing will ever change.

Risk factors for suicide in young people include:

  • Previous suicide attempt
  • History of mental disorder, including substance abuse (especially bipolar disorder and depression)
  • Access to methods or means of attempting suicide
  • History of childhood sexual or physical assault or violence
  • Family history of attempted or completed suicide
  • Family history of mental disorders

How does suicide affect young people? 

In South Africa, an estimated 9.5% of non-natural deaths
in young people are because of suicides

Studies in South Africa by suicidologist Professor Lourens Schlebush have found that in young people most suicides occur in the 15-19 year age group (8.35%), followed by the 10-14 year age group (1.57%). His studies have also found that girls aged between 10–19 are the group with the highest suicide rate amongst South African youth. Worldwide, the World Health Organisation lists suicide as the second leading cause of death among 15–29-year-olds.

Opening up about mental health problems and/or suicidal feelings can be very difficult, and anyone who does so should always be treated with respect and kindness. Young people who are suicidal need professional mental health treatment and support, not judgment or ridicule.

How to help someone who is suicidal

Seek the help of a mental health professional. Do everything in your power to get a suicidal person the help he or she needs. Call a crisis line for advice and referrals if necessary, and encourage the young person to see a mental health professional. They will be able to do a proper medical assessment to see if there are any underlying mental health conditions that need treatment, and will advise on the best course of action.

Help them remain treatment complaint. If the doctor prescribes medication, make sure your friend or loved one takes it as directed. Remember that it may sometimes take time and persistence to find the medication or therapy that’s right for a particular person, so it is important not to get discouraged.

Be proactive. Young people thinking about committing suicide often don’t believe they can be helped, so you may have to be more proactive at offering assistance. Saying, “Call me if you need anything” may be too vague. Don’t wait for the person to call you or even to call you back. Drop by, call again, and make sure that they are alright.

Encourage healthy lifestyle changes, such as a balanced diet, plenty of sleep, and spending time with friends or family.  Exercise is also very important because it releases endorphins, relieves stress, and promotes emotional well-being.

Make a safety plan. Help the young person develop a set of steps they promise to follow during a suicidal crisis. The safety plan should identify any potential triggers that may lead to a suicidal crisis, like the anniversary of a loss, alcohol, or stress from relationships or school. Also include contact numbers for the person’s doctor or therapist, as well as friends and family members who will help during an emergency.

Remove potential means of suicide, such as pills, knives, razors, or firearms. If the young person is likely to take an overdose, keep medications locked away or give out only as they need them.

Continue your support over time.  Even after the immediate suicidal crisis has passed, stay in touch with the young person, by checking in or dropping by. Your support is vital to ensure your friend or loved one remains on the recovery track and knows that they are supported and cared for.

If you are suicidal and need help or are unsure how to help someone in need, contact one of the 24 hour crises lines below:

SADAG Suicide Crisis Line

0800 567 567

SMS 31393

Lifeline National Counselling Line

0861 322 322