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Lockdown and social media are leading contributors to rising teen suicide rates in South Africa

During one of the most uncertain times in modern history, teens and adolescents face a whole new set of challenges. Fears about the future, extreme loneliness and isolation, and increased social media exposure are issues previous generations never had to deal with. These pressures have resulted in a very depressed and anxious generation and the consequences are significant. According to the World Health Organisation, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 29-year-olds globally.

In South Africa, 9% of all teenage deaths are due to suicide, with an estimated 23 suicides and 460 attempted suicides occurring every day. As worrying as these statistics are, the reason for the rise in teen suicide ideations and attempts is multifaceted, says Dr. Ade van Heerden. “The lockdown and increased media exposure are definitely two of the biggest contributors, while other factors like bullying, academic pressure, and a history of childhood trauma and abuse are also areas of concern. There isn’t a single reason, but more an amalgamation of a changing society and the many pressures that come with it.”

Despite the complexity of depression, suicide ideations, and anxiety disorders, Dr van Heerden offers guidance on the warning signs parents can look for if they suspect their teens are struggling. “When it comes to warning signs, there are some noticeable and more subtle changes parents should keep in mind. Changes in mood with possible excessive crying or anger outbursts are common, as well as self-harm and other risky behaviours, including drug and alcohol abuse.”

“Other signs include low self-esteem, loss of interest in friends or hobbies, social isolation, a drop in grades, weight loss or gain, and a fixation on past failures associated with self-blame. More subtle signs include changes in sleeping patterns and appetite and less attention to personal hygiene.”

On a more promising note, Dr van Heerden assures that certain actions can be taken to help teens dealing with stressful situations. “Medications sourced from nature have been proven to help young people suffering from the symptoms of anxiety and depression. Products like Emozac are great over-the-counter alternatives to traditional pharmaceutical medications like Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), one of the most common prescription antidepressant drugs.”

Dr van Heerden continues, “In fact, when compared to SSRIs over a six-week period, medication containing saffron extract like Emozac had a similar effect with no noted side effects. This only corroborates our findings that natural medicine can help manage the symptoms of depression and anxiety. This includes increasing sleep quality, which in turn promotes our decision-making abilities and general mood. It also decreases feelings of stress and encourages emotional balance and calmness. What’s more, Emozac is suitable for children from the age of 12, making it a good alternative for adolescents, teens and young adults.”

Taking action

Dealing with a child suffering from anxiety or depression can be a daunting, scary, and emotional experience. However, parents can help ease the process and give loved ones the support they need through understanding and encouragement. Dr van Heerden also adds that the role of therapy cannot be overstated enough. “Therapy plays a vital role in recovery and equipping a teenager with appropriate coping skills. At a young age, family therapy can also be a great way to open up communication lines between parents and kids. A licensed therapist or medical professional will be able to advise on the need for pharmaceutical intervention and the treatment course depending on the severity of the symptoms and the individual needs of the child,” Dr van Heerden concludes.

If you suspect your teen of having suicidal thoughts, call the SADAG Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393. Calls are free, and counselling is available in all 11 official languages.

About Releaf Pharmaceuticals

Releaf Pharmaceuticals is a thought-leading, South African-based pharmaceutical company in the Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAMs) category of products. It is focused on creating and sharing scientifically backed, best-in-class products and solutions, which exceed the CAMs/SAHPRA requirements within the CAMs product categories. Their solutions talk to the needs of a conscious, informed, health-focused community: people who proactively cultivate a healthy lifestyle and believe implicitly in preventative health – who also expect their doctor or pharmacist to offer them trusted alternatives.