Suicide affecting younger people in South Africa

Johannesburg – The recent suicide of two Gauteng pupils have brought the issue back in spotlight with the South African Anxiety and Depression Group (Sadag) confirming a rise in the number of calls from adolescents since the Covid-19 pandemic started in the country.

Cassey Chambers, operations director at Sadag said the Covid-19 said teens were affected as result of the consequences of parents’ unemployment, the fallout of the recent looting and insurrection, and uncertainty about their schooling future.

“If adults have felt anxious, stressed, and have been struggling to navigate the impact of Covid-19 on their mental health, we know that the stress and anxiety is felt even more with our children and adolescents,” said Chambers.

The majority of the calls to the Sadag helplines are from people between the ages of 18 to 35 years old, but we have seen an increase in the number of calls from teens and adolescents recently.

“These calls are soaring because, against the backdrop of all the trauma our children are experiencing, they’re uncertain how to articulate what they’re feeling, how to ask for help, and in many instances, they don’t know who they can turn to for the help they need,” said Chambers.

Sadag reports that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death in young people aged 15-29.

The Gauteng Department of Education said a Grade 10 pupil at Emadwaleni Secondary School in Soweto hung himself after quarrelling with his parents while another Grade 7 pupil at PS Fourie Primary in Eersterust, Pretoria who had not been attending school since July had also taken his own life.

Bullying has also been said to affect the suicide rate of especially young people.

Spokesperson for the Limpopo Education department Tidimalo Chuene said various interventions were implemented after the death of Mbilwi Secondary School pupil, Lufuno Mavhunga in April.

The 15-year-old overdosed on pills after a video of her being beaten up by a fellow pupil went viral.

Chuene said the pupil in question has since been expelled from Mbilwi Secondary School, after due disciplinary processes in line with the school’s code of conduct and recommendation to the Head of Department.
She was also arrested and granted bail by the Thohoyandou Children’s Magistrate Court.

“The report we have is that she is now at another school,” said Chuene.

Chuene said they had to organise counselling services to affected pupils at the school by the Departments of Health and Social Development over a five-day period.

She said their Vhembe East Education District office also convened a Representative Council of Learners seminar on bullying for the region.

“They also had sessions on bullying and gender-based violence at various schools, including, Ximunwana, EPP Mhinga, Jilongo, Matimba and Hlalukweni. We are engaging learners through outreach activities and radio programmes coordinated through our HIV/Aids and life skills programme.
“Currently the department has appointed 300 learner-support agents in high burden schools across the province. In schools they form part of school-based support teams,” said Chuene.

She said they have also linked schools with nearest police stations and established schools safety committees and that thus far their listed interventions have shown to be effective.

“Learners are now coming through confidently to report incidents, which allows us to intervene,” said Chuene.

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