Slipping through the Net: Why SA's teens are killing themselves
Internet Disorder is a real condition and it's having a devastating impact on our nation's youngsters
South African teenagers are the second most at risk suicide group in the country – and many are suffering from a new condition defined as the “Internet disorder”, according to suicide expert Lourens Schlebusch.
Research showed that those below 19 years of age in South Africa are the second-highest risk group, while those aged between 20 and 29 are the most at risk group, Schlebusch told Times Select.
He was speaking ahead of World Suicide Prevention Day next week, and also after a Grade 7 pupil at a primary school in the Western Cape committed suicide last week by hanging himself.
Generally speaking, stress levels among young people were increasing – because of an addiction to the Internet, said Schlebusch.
He said a new disorder, known as the “I” or Internet disorder has been well documented in international studies.
“Youngsters are getting addicted to cellphone use. There's also a lot of abuse going on in social media. There’s also the high risk of being lured into lewd situations on social media and also the whole question of selfies and the disclosing of your intimate lifestyle.
“All those can increase the risk [of committing suicide],” said Schlebusch, an emeritus professor of behavioural medicine at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.He said, however, that there were no statistics locally on the impact of Internet and social media addiction on young people.
“A lot of change occurs in technology so a lot of young people want the latest cellphones, fashion and so on and these kind of things can elevate their stress levels.”
Roughly about 12% of non-natural deaths in South Africa are suicide-related, according to Schlebusch. For young people below the age of 18, roughly 9.5% to 10% of the non-natural deaths are suicide-related. These figures are from hospitals and mortuaries.
He said that for every one completed suicide there was between 10 and 20 and sometimes even more suicide attempts.
Hanging, using firearms, poisoning, gassing and burning were the most prevalent methods used to commit suicide.
Schlebusch, the author of Suicidal Behaviour in South Africa, was a member of the World Health Organisation which conducted an international study on suicide prevention in five continents in early 2000.
He said that it was found that roughly a million people per annum committed suicide globally and that it was predicted to increase by 1.5 million by 2020.
“Some of the contributors include interpersonal problems which can be partner relationship problems, family problems or academic-related problems.”
Schlebusch said young people needed to be encouraged to discuss their problems with somebody they could trust.
“If you look at the link between stress, psychological disorders and suicidal behaviour, it’s usually a sense of hopelessness.”Meanwhile, the SA Depression & Anxiety Group (Sadag) has cautioned schools to be circumspect in the way teenage suicides are handled.
Sadag’s operations director, Cassey Chambers, expressed concern over the manner in which the suicide of a Western Cape pupil was communicated to the community.
Sadag was responding to a letter sent by the principal of Beaumont Primary in the Western Cape, Gordon Reddell, to parents informing them that a Grade 7 pupil was found in his bedroom “with a rope around his neck”.
“The exact cause of death is not yet known as there is an investigation and an autopsy pending,” he wrote. “We believe, like many other children in today’s time, that he probably also experienced his own challenges in life, albeit it relational, schoolwork or of a personal nature.”
The pupil died on Wednesday night.
Chambers said giving parents details about the rope was not necessary.
“It’s very normal for a school to have to confirm or make an announcement around a pupil's death or passing. My only concern is hearing the details of that passing. I would have assumed it would have been sensitive information.”
She said she had seen the letter after someone had forwarded it to her.
“I haven't had any communication with the school as yet and we will be reaching out to see how we can support the pupils and the parents.”
She said that this case showed that there was a great lesson for schools when it came to the reporting of suicides.
Chambers said that due to the sensitive nature of the death, they recommended that schools do not include details of the suicide when reporting on suicides.
Western Cape education department spokesperson Bronagh Hammond said the late pupil’s parents were provided with a copy of Reddell’s letter before it was sent out.
“The parents gave the principal consent to issue the letter to the other parents of the school. The parents were in full support of the letter.”