One suicide takes place every hour in South Africa, with approximately 10% of all non-natural deaths being suicides. This is according to a lecturer in Psychology at the University of the Free State, Dr Ancel George. Last week being Teen Suicide Prevention Week in South Africa, George emphasised the high incidence of suicide attempts among teenagers, stating that a National Youth Risk Survey indicated that 21.4% of high school learners have had more than one suicide attempt. George said there could be many reasons for this. “Adolescents are exposed to an inordinate amount of pressure from society, including academic pressures, the information age and the pace at which it moves, as well as peer pressure,” said George.
“There are also many other social pressures, such as divorce, financial stand, poverty, etc, which all create immense pressure on adolescents.” George also named a lack of support from society’s gatekeepers as a reason for the high incidence of suicide tendencies. “I am speaking specifically about parents and their involvement with their children. Adolescents still perceive the home as a safe base from which to function and in emotionally unsupportive environments it seem that teenagers start to feel unsafe and this could contribute to suicidal behaviour.”
George said the first step towards suicide prevention is to create a body to coordinate suicide prevention strategies, as there is currently no such national organisation or programme. “My plea is to bring back a fully functional school psychology support system,” said George. “It is so important that we pick up the problems before they escalate to suicide attempts and of course sadly, the successful suicide.” George also believes firmly that more community support components, such as community psychologists, are needed. This would help with creating awareness and educating community members. George’s advice to parents is that any change in your child’s normal behaviour should be followed up and not ignored. “If there is something that is changing in terms of his emotions – if he is perhaps more irritated towards the parents – it could be the result of pressure he is experiencing, if for example, he is being bullied.” He also encouraged parents to set time aside to talk to their children and know what is going on in their lives.