The escalation in the number of teenagers who have suicidal thoughts, attempt suicide and commit suicide has called for a reappraisal of this sad state of affairs. One of the saddest phenomena of the late eighties and nineties in America is the teenage “suicide cluster”. Groups which are acquainted with each other and who choose to commit suicide.
Often many reach stressful points in their school lives, underachieving or they become underachievers academically. They fail a standard like matric. There is a failure in getting admission to college, Technikon or university, being unable to get a job and their parents do not have the finances to see to their material and spiritual needs.
These young people come from affluent homes or less financially well of families, from homes with caring parents or form broken homes.
The majority of teenage suicides occur under the influence of alcohol or drugs. In some cases, young would-be suicides do not necessarily have all the symptoms of depression, but could instead be extremely angry, impulsive or reckless. In many cases parents, educators, and friends have no idea of how serious the suicidal intention is until the attempt has been made. The contagious nature of teenage suicide is fuelled by the mass media as people often mimic what they see on television.
Society has become more rootless in the last thirty years with family life becoming more fragile, and in many cases being non-existent. Teenagers have less and less support during the crisis period in their lives.
Recent studies indicate that between 44 to 66 percent of teenagers who attempt suicide come from broken homes. In many cases both parents are working and the teenager is alone at home most of the day.
In many families, there is the existence of severe conflict and there is a lack of communication with the teenager, in addition, the family may be in denial that problems exist in the family. In present day America as well as South Africa, there has been a decline of religious and ethical values. This leaves many teenagers with a spiritual and emotional emptiness. Further, in South Africa promiscuity, child abuse, paedophilia, violence, rape, HIV/Aids, sexually transmitted diseases, and the radio, television, internet and magazines have resulted in a decline in the existence of a personal value system and a value-based educational system. According to Freud, 80% of teenage suicides occur when a youngster is depressed, while the other 20% of teenagers’ attempts show impulse disorders, such as excessive anger and acting out. The latter group may threaten suicide in a manner to get their own way.
Most suicidal teenagers have suffered a major loss such as parental divorce, a death in the family, moving, breaking up with a girl (boy) friend, social humiliation or failure in school.
Lack of communication is often the essence of the teenage suicide event. Alarming research reports indicate that teenagers today spend an average of 14 minutes a week talking to their parents. While by the time the teenager matriculates he or she will have spent 15, 000 hours in front of the television.
The abuse of drugs and alcohol has also increased the teenage suicide rate. There is no doubt that alcohol and drugs contribute to the rapid increase in teenage suicide rate by lowering impulse control, increasing depression and impairing educational and social successes.
The pressures on our children, especially teenagers are tremendous. Are we only to pay heed when there are more teenage pregnancies, an increase in the incidence of HIV/Aids, greater stress and an inability to cope? Add to this the greater incidence of substance abuses such as alcohol and drug addiction, more suicide attempts, more successful suicides and the destruction of the fabric of the future for our children in a non-racial democratic South Africa.
The mental health of children and adults in any society is essential for its happiness and wellbeing. All South Africans must acquaint themselves with all aspects of depression so that they can play a role in fighting teenage suicide.