How to identify and handle teen suicide

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Young people’s lives matter and Margaret Kafesu (37), a child psychologist at the East Rand Academy of Excellence in Primrose, spoke more about teenage suicide and understanding depression.

World Suicide Prevention Day is commemorated on September 10.

The mother of three holds a bachelor of social sciences honours degree in psychology and sociology and is currently studying for a Master’s of education in educational psychology  with the University of South Africa (Unisa).

The psychologist has worked in different child development sectors which include orphanages, schools and church facilities in different countries.

“Depression is often the leading cause of teenage suicide. Some people need medication while others need counselling and a change of environment.”

Margaret said teenagers contemplating suicide frequently show signs of distress but parents, teachers and society are often too busy to notice.

“A suicidal child is not likely to seek help. However, once authorities notice, immediate action is required.”

The psychologist shared signs displayed by suicidal youth.

  • These include:
  • Withdrawal from society, friends and family.
  • A history of unsolved or unresolved issues from home and school.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Feelings of being neglected by friends, family and society.
  • Signs of depression, anxiety and fatigue.
  • Abuse of drugs or alcohol and an addiction to cyberspace such as social networks and the internet.
  • A history of acutely stressful events such as unwanted pregnancy, trouble with the law, or not meeting high parental expectations.

“Guardians and parents should look out for these signs and communicate with their child and seek professional assistance,” said the child psychologist.

  • She provided the following advice to parents, guardians and teachers:
  • Ask the child if they feel suicidal.
  • Focus on your concern for their well-being and avoid being accusatory.
  • Listen to them.
  • Reassure them that they will be alright.
  • Do not judge.
  • Provide constant supervision and never leave them alone.
  • If you cannot assist them fully, find professional help from mental health practitioners.

The child psychologist said she has come to embrace different ailments suffered by the youth such as mood swings and tantrums.

Margaret shared what parents should do if they suspect their teenager is depressed.

“Parents should maintain good communication, adaptive coping and problem-solving skills which include conflict resolution with their teens. They should avoid assuming that behaviour is attention-seeking.” She said they should assess risky behaviour and notify school authorities or seek medical or psycho-social assistance for their child with no further delays.

To help build resilience, Margaret said parents should give children a chance to tackle challenges on their own. “Allow the child to make mistakes. As hard as it might sound but also be there for support.”

She added that the Covid-19 pandemic has put extreme pressure on harsh situations that the South African youth from poor backgrounds have been facing.

“The education system has not been stable and some learners have failed to get enough academic assistance. Financially, parents are not able to keep up with the Covid-19 related procedures like buying masks and a shield becomes luxury.”

The psychologist said South African youth have had policies that cater for their well-being and a chance for them to participate in government rulings and transitions.

“Attempts to navigate these transitions has empowered them to participate fully in the building of the economy and prioritisation of basic needs such as education, health and infrastructure.”

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