Should I worry about teen suicide?

Posted on 5 March 2018

In short, if you’re a parent, the risk of teen, or even child, suicide should always be on your radar. An alarming statistic released by the South Africa Depression and Anxiety Group shows that as many as 1 in 4 teenagers has attempted to take their own life.

We may be afraid to talk to our teenager about suicide in case we introduce ideas into their heads, but actually open communication is exactly what your teenager needs. Parents should also be aware of other dangerous and persistent myths around mental health that may lead them to dismiss a cry for help as attention seeking behaviour.

‘We are long past the old adage that boys don’t cry and you must toughen up. We all need a soft landing place,’ says Johannesburg-based clinical psychologist, Liane Lurie.

Understand the pressures

‘Teenagers live in a world of instant gratification. Messages can be sent at the touch of a button and bullying is no longer confined to just the playground. There is also an increasing pressure to succeed and a need to compete. We may not always be aware of all of the pressures and challenges that our children are facing’.

Understand the myths 

In the past, if teenagers spoke about suicide, many parents would dismiss it as part of normal teenage rebellion with the belief that people who really intend to commit suicide will never talk about it. This has been shown to be a false belief. Many people who commit suicide often spoke about their plans to end their life.

‘Teenagers are navigating their way through a fast-paced world, raging hormones and an array of pressures, and it is easy to write off their behaviour as normal teenager angst. Common warning signs that your teenager needs support for their mental health and wellbeing are sudden behaviour changes, withdrawal, changes in eating or sleeping patterns, moodiness, isolation, loss of interest, self-harm or even saying goodbye over social media,’ says Lurie.

Start the conversation 

‘If you notice a change in their behaviour, big or small, do not be afraid to speak to your teenager about it. Parents often believe that they have an open relationship with their adolescent and they would approach their parents with a problem first. However, your child may be carrying a sense of shame or fear of judgement. As parents, we often have to take the first step in asking difficult questions.’

Get outside help

‘Creating a non-judgemental space to openly chat or enlisting the help of an objective “outsider” in the form of a counsellor or psychologist can often go a long way towards alleviating some of the internal angst a teen may feel,’ adds Lurie.

It is important to remember that teens, by nature, are prone to impulsive behaviour with suicide often attempted or committed as one of these impulsive acts. As psychiatrist Dr Helen Clarke says ‘a teenager who attempts suicide is often struggling with multiple challenges in their personal, family or school life. The impulsive act occurs in response to a stressor that is just one too much for an adolescent to handle.’

In other words, a break-up, bullying incident or even missing out on making the first team can be the final straw, pushing your teen into an unfortunate and irreversible decision.

If you notice anything that concerns you, the time to act is now. For help and support call the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567.

(National Youth Risk Behavior Survey – 2011 pg 11 and Suicidal Behaviour pg 178, Lourens Schlebusch1 Department of Behavioural Medicine, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal).


In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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