This Friday 10th September is World Suicide Prevention Day and I’d like you to do two simple things. The first is to write the word “LOVE” on your wrist (or draw a butterfly if you prefer) and when people ask you what it’s for you can tell them it’s for raising awareness for suicide prevention. The second thing would be to say or do something to affirm someone else. It could be a classmate, a colleague, a family member or a random stranger.
Suicide is a significant worldwide problem and the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that depression affects approximately 300 million people worldwide. When this depression is left undiagnosed and untreated, it can result in significant life and work difficulties, and can ultimately end with a person believing that the only way out is to take their own life. In South Africa alone it is estimated that there are over 200 suicide attempts every day, and the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) says that SA men are four times more likely than women to take their own lives.
To challenge this growing problem we need to break the stigma around men and mental health, specifically around men speaking about difficult emotions such as sadness, anxiety, frustration and hopelessness. Too many young men believe that feeling bad is a sign of weakness, and avoid speaking to someone who can help.
As a school psychologist my biggest fear is that there will be a student who is feeling sad and hopeless and who might be driven to attempt their own life because their distress is going un-noticed and they are not getting the support they need. On the positive side I’ve been so grateful when a concerned student has brought another teen to the BSU, or when a concerned parent, House Director or tutor is able to recognise the signs of unhappiness and get that person to us so that we can help them. Depression is a medical condition which is very treatable, especially for young people. The combination of medication and counselling can literally be life-changing.
There are many brilliant resources on this important topic but I would like to point you to three.
- This Friday there is an online Facebook Question and Answer session organised by the SADAG on their Facebook page. See https://www.facebook.com/TheSADAG
- Darryl Brown is a remarkable young Capetonian who who regularly shares his story of his own suicide attempt and how he recovered.
- Marion Scher is an award-winning journalist who covers mental health issues. Her 2021 book Surfacing: People Coping with Depression and Mental Illness contains life-affirming and encouraging personal stories of a range of South Africans who have struggled with mental health issues. See https://www.bookstorm.co.za/books/surfacing/ for details.
To break the stigma of mental health, we should encourage our young people to
- Seek Help
- Connect with others
- Accept your feelings and talk about them
- Be aware of your own thoughts and work to improve them
- Accept that life if often difficult and that we can’t do this alone
- Have a list of names and contact details of people you trust. The SADAG Suicide Hotline number (0800 456 789) is a good contact.
- Identify activities to manage distress (such as mindfulness, exercise, listening to music)
- Don’t assume that people know how you feel – you need to tell them.
- Hold on to the words of affirmation that you receive.
When in doubt, reach out and speak to a psychologist at the BSU.
Pete Farlam, Clinical Psychologist, BSU