Mental health may be challenging to speak about to your teens, but it is a discussion that is important to have with them.
Teenage Suicide Prevention Week took place from Monday February 14 to Thursday February 17.
Stikland Hospital clinical psychologist Nicolize Nepgen has urged parents and guardians to talk to teenagers about their mental health.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), depression is globally the third highest disease burden amongst adolescents and suicide the second leading cause of death in 15- to 29-year-olds, while the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) states that 9% of teenage deaths in the country are due to suicide, she said.
She said that understanding the signs of depression and talking about mental health are key in preventing suicide.
Allison Eakin, senior clinical social worker for Wynberg Girls’ High School, said suicidal thoughts and behaviours has no age, race or social-economic bias.
Some people may dismiss the idea of mental illness as something only privileged people struggle with “or is a ‘white person problem’ but what becomes evident in our work is that this stigma and generalisation only allows for more people to live with untreated and undiagnosed mental illness which leads to concluded suicide, self-harm behaviour or at-risk behaviour,” said Ms Eakin.
Some parents have faced trauma themselves, sometimes they’re unable to help their children with teen suicide issues.
“I think it is important to firstly prioritise our own healing and manage our own trauma as parents so that we can role model to our children how to manage distress. We need to try to bring back dinner time conversations where we actively connect with our children and validate their feelings and offer containment. Too often we dismiss our children’s emotions due to our own fears and inadequacies in managing them, said Ms Eakin.
There are many NGOs offering services and support to parents especially those who have suffered stigma. We also need to encourage our children to speak to a trusted adult if they are unable to talk to their parents for whatever reason, she said.
As parents they need to protect their teens by placing reasonable and realistic boundaries on technology and social media and provide limits.
Ms Eakin would advocate for parents installing parent monitoring apps on their teens phones and drawing up a cellphone contract with their teen where the parent is allowed to access their phone.
It’s important that the child does not sleep with their phone as “nothing good happens after dark.” Parents are ultimately the owners of these phones and could be held liable for the content shared. It’s important for parents to talk about the negative impact that social media and phones have with their children, she said.
Ms Nepgen said the warning signs of teen suicide are withdrawing from social contact, talking or writing about suicide, and feeling trapped, hopeless or helpless about a situation.
It also includes changing normal routines, as well as developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated when experiencing some of the warning signs.
Ms Nepgen said symptoms of depression, as listed by SADAG are loss of interest in things they like to do, sadness that won’t go away, daydreaming, doing badly at school, or not being able to make decisions.
It is important to talk about mental health and suicide. “Don’t wait for your teen to come to you. If your teen is sad, anxious, depressed or appears to be struggling – ask what’s wrong and offer your support,” said Ms Nepgen.
“If your teen is thinking about suicide, listen to what your child is saying. Never shrug off threats of suicide as a melodrama. Monitor social media use, provide support, talk to your teen about treatment plans and monitor medication use. Don’t try to argue them out of suicide and avoid guilt-inducing statements like ‘suicide will hurt your family’,” she said.
Rather let them know that you care and want to understand that they are not alone. The process of preventing suicide is by starting conversations and creating a team of individuals who will continue in the role of facilitating in preventing suicide. Involving the community in these conversations can play a part in developing the youth and those struggling with this issue, said Ms Nepgen.
Ultimately we need to focus on connection before correction with our children, ensure that our homes are safe places with reasonable and realistic boundaries and to not be afraid as parents to ask for help, said Ms Eakin.
Teacher at Beacon Hill High School, Ricardo Adamson said he continually teaches his pupils about development of the self.
“We focus on self-awareness and self-esteem in the classroom. Self-acceptance comes from you, when we accept ourselves no one will be able to break into our minds and confuse us of who we are,” he said.
Bullying is one of the things affecting teens today, as well as name calling, not being accepted in their friend groups or even at home, he said.
He has experienced pupils wanting to commit suicide as well as pupils having thoughts of doing so because of their circumstances at home or issues affecting them at school or with their peers, he said.
“I make it my mission to change their minds on suicidal thoughts and nurture them back to life. It is important that we remain active as much as we can in the lives of our youth and be present enough to identify the signs of suicide,” said Mr Adamson.
• You can visit your nearest primary healthcare facility or clinic for support. There are also numerous national acute helplines such as:
• SADAG – Toll-free number – 0800 567 567
• Lifeline Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0800 121 314 /0861 322 322
• Adcock Ingram Helpline – 0800 708 090
• Akeso Psychiatric Response – 0861 435 787
• Childline – 0800 055 555
• Cipla 24hr Helpline – 0800 456 789
• Dr Reddy’s Helpline – 0800 212 223