Empowering Voices: Teen Suicide Prevention Week 2024 - SACAP
Academic Articles

Empowering Voices: Teen Suicide Prevention Week 2024

Feb 16, 2024 | By Kyle Young
Mobile Curve
Mobile Curve

Trigger warning: This blog post contains content related to teen suicide which may be distressing to some readers. If you or someone you know is struggling to cope with mental health problems or experiencing thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help using the resources at the end of the article.

This February, from the 14th to the 21st, marks Teen Suicide Prevention Week. These seven days are dedicated to shining a light on a difficult topic and encouraging collaboration to understand and address the challenges young people face. With proper awareness and support, we can tackle the serious and heartbreaking issue of suicide among young people.

In observance of Teen Suicide Prevention Week, we asked a few SACAP staff members about its importance and to explore how we can support our communities.

Why Does Teen Suicide Prevention Week Matter?

It is important, first and foremost, to understand the magnitude of the problem. Suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for young adults globally, and the second leading cause of death for teens in some countries (WHO). Jogini Packery (Counselling Psychologist) agrees: “I find the number of teenage suicide cases in South Africa to be quite alarming and am especially concerned about the impact that excessive social media and cyberbullying may have on teens.”

Teens are at particular risk of suicide given that teenage years are often turbulent, marked by emotional, physical, and social changes. For some teens, these challenges can become overwhelming, leading to feelings of despair and isolation. Social factors, like discrimination against LGBTQ+ teens, has been shown to increase the risk of suicidal ideation up to four times. Packery adds that “the number of teen suicide rates in South Africa are further impacted on by the high rate of poverty, gender-based violence, and domestic violence, among others. Hence, targeted prevention efforts during this week of awareness are essential to uplift our future generation of leaders.”

What Can We Do as Adults and Caretakers to Support Young People?

Creating a safe and open environment for young people is paramount for adults and caretakers. Minda Kruger (Registered Counsellor) stresses the importance of being approachable and fostering open communication. “Encourage them to express themselves and reassure them it’s okay to seek help. By being vigilant for signs of distress and promoting a supportive environment, we ensure young people know they have someone to turn to, making a significant difference in their lives” states Kruger. Warning signs of suicide, which include changes in mood and behaviour, expressions of hopelessness, increased use of alcohol or drugs, and withdrawal from social activities – you can look at the SADAG page for more comprehensive information on supporting a suicidal friend or family member.

Anita Kriel (Clinical Psychologist) agrees and suggests that we also talk to our own young children about what to do when they encounter a friend in distress. “Ask you children: what should we do when a friend tells you a big secret and that they are thinking of hurting themselves? It can be scary for children so it’s important to let them know to stay calm and that they are helping by just being there and listening. Ensure they are armed with resources like helplines and know to encourage their friend to talk to an adult that they trust like a teacher or a family member. It’s also important that they know that they do not need to agree to secrecy and that they can talk to you in confidence if they are worried about a friend.”

What Can We Do as Young People to Support Our Friends and Peers?

As young individuals, we hold the power to support one another through challenging times. Janine Kendall, (Counselling Psychologist), highlights the importance of connection and awareness among peers. “The most potent tools are information and the power of connection. It’s crucial to create an environment where talking about feelings of despair, depression, or thoughts of suicide are not stigmatised but rather seen as a step towards healing. It is fine to sometimes feel that way. Encourage open dialogue, show empathy, and provide a non-judgmental space for friends to share their feelings,” Kendall suggests. This approach can significantly impact a friend’s willingness to seek help. Actively listening and offering to accompany them to professional help are practical steps in showing care and concern.

Final Thoughts on Combatting Teen Suicide

Teen Suicide Prevention Week is a call to action for each of us in our own way, but especially in a way which is mindful of young people and the pressures that they face. We are also challenged to think about what we can do to support young people in our lives

“We must engage in proactive strategies to promote awareness and mental health literacy.” Packery goes on to say “with a deepened collective understanding of mental health and wellbeing, we can better recognize when someone is struggling. It is also essential to upskill teens and those who care for teens to know how to seek access to resources that will aid healthy coping.

“It is important not to overlook the significance of bullying and including cyberbullying, as these are significant risk factors for suicidal ideation among teens.” Kendall goes on to say that “creating safe and inclusive environments where bullying is not tolerated and where victims feel supported and empowered to speak up is essential. This is especially important for LGBTQ+ and other teens who experience discrimination.”

Fortunately, because awareness is so important in the prevention of suicide in young people, each one of us can play a role in addressing the issue. Every conversation, every shared resource, and every understanding moment is a contribution to addressing this problem and building a world where young people feel able to ask for help and need never face their darkest hours alone.

Getting help

If you or someone you know is struggling to cope with everyday life or experiencing thoughts of suicide, please reach out for help. Suicidal thoughts might be thinking that your sadness will never end, thinking about ending your life, feeling worthless, wanting to hurt yourself, or believing your pain will never stop. During times of crisis, these feelings can feel overwhelming and are very difficult to face alone. It is important to remember that things can get better, and that help is available.

Consider talking to a trusted friend, family member, teacher or a caretaker or use one of the free and anonymous South African helplines below:

Previous post

Next post

Your form is being submitted.

Thank you for your enquiry