By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi
Miss South Africa Shudufhadzo Musida launched her online mental health initiative, “Mindful Mondays”.
This week being Teen Suicide Prevention Week (February 14 – 21), a week that highlights awareness especially around teen depression, Musida’s online initiative focused on equipping parents and teachers about matter surrounding teen’s mental health.
“Being lethargic, feeling alienated, and being irritable, those are the signs of depression.
“There is a very thin line between normal teen behaviour and teen depression,’ said Musida in bringing attention to the topic.
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) says South African teens are at a particularly high risk as the mental health impact of Covid-19 has been immense.
South African teens are navigating a new world of online learning or delayed learning, social isolation, loss, grief and trauma, with increased anxiety and depression.
Psychiatrist and Sadag board chairperson, Dr Frans Korb, says: “There is a myth that depression or suicide doesn’t affect teens or children.
“In fact it’s very real and affects more young people than we know, with teens being a particular high risk for suicide.
Depression is the leading cause of suicide, it doesn’t discriminate against age, gender, race, religion or socio-economic background.”
Sadag has seen an increase in the number of calls to its suicide helplines: “We encourage parents, teachers and family members to know the warning signs of depression and to reach out for help as soon as possible.
“Now more than ever, parents need to connect and engage with their children – ask questions, listen carefully to understand, get to know what is happening in their teens’ lives and what they are feeling and thinking, connecting to help if you pick up any warning signs for depression or suicide before it is too late. It could save a life.”
Speaking on the Miss South Africa YouTube channel, educational psychologist Elzette Fritz says parents should be extra observant with symptoms of teen suicide because some can mask it very well, especially high-performing teens.
“On the surface they seem to be coping, but inside they are internalising their feelings. Those are mostly our ticking time-bombs because no one expects it from them,” says Fritz.
Possible warning signs of suicide can include:
•Talking about suicide or death – could be writing or drawing about death and dying, or posting pictures, quotes or messages on social media.
• Writing or sending goodbye letters or messages or posting goodbye messages on social media.
• Saying things like “Everyone would be better off if I was dead” or “I wish I wasn’t here anymore” or “I don’t want to be here anymore”.
• Giving away prized possessions.
• Signs of depression such as moodiness, hopelessness, withdrawal, drastic change in their appetite and sleep, and loss of interest in usual activities.
• Increased alcohol and/or other drug use.
• Behavioural changes and taking excessive risks.