The past two years have seen a sharp rise in teenage suicide globally.
No words could ever adequately describe a parent’s devastation upon the suicide of a child. This grief cuts way deeper than that of a death caused by illness. More often than not the warning signs were there – but were misinterpreted or not attended to.
The past two years have seen a sharp rise in teenage suicide globally. This can, in part, be directly attributed to the worldwide actions by governments because of the COVID-19 virus. Locked down, children of all ages have been denied natural growth stimulators, also emotionally. Teenagers strongly feel the burden of lack of personal interaction. And while technology has enabled schooling to continue, so much has been lost that this generation will probably become known by an epithet describing what they have lost in human terms.
Says Hanlie Boshoff, narrative therapist in Centurion: “Parents have become digitally distracted – we all have. But interaction and communication between parents and teenagers are still the mainstay of good emotional health.
Depression has become as common as toothache. The pandemic has exacerbated this as everyone felt depressed at least some of the time. But long-term depression which kicks in is different to a short-term feeling of “the blues”. And although things are ‘back to normal’ the effects will be with us for years to come. In teenagers, signs differ from that of adult depression.
“Research has shown that parents find it difficult to tell the difference between ‘ups and downs’ and teen depression that needs treatment. And even when parents may correctly identify it, many barriers such as access to treatment, financial difficulties and poor communication with the teen could prevent seeking help,” says Boshoff whose practice, Tiqvah, specialises in teenagers with challenges.
“One tell-tale sign in teenagers is their increased irritability. This commonly leads to impatience, disrespectful behaviour and defiance. Extreme reaction to criticism is another sign. And right at the end of the pendulum’s swing, is aggression. Monitor your teen’s response to risk-taking, criticism, and failure…. His reaction could tell you he is suffering from depression. Added to these signs could be social withdrawal or joining the wrong crowd. Both could be the first step towards problems like alcohol/substance abuse, even self-harm,” Boshoff points out.
Other symptoms to watch out for: feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest, tiredness, memory loss, sleeping problems and appetite loss. If the teen suffers from Major Depressive Disorder, suicidal thoughts, anxiety and panic disorder could further be part of the picture.
“Family units are under stress. Single parent families or children brought up by grannies, these realities are what we see in our society. But even traditional nuclear families are no longer devoid of these digital distractions. Stress also increases substance use (or abuse) which affects families. Out of control parents spell trouble all around,” explains Henda van der Merwe, director of CMR Gauteng-Oos, a social work NGO with 13 satellite offices across Pretoria.
Are we raising a mentally disturbed generation? The answer seems obvious. A recent South Africa study showed that around 17% of teenagers had contemplated suicide in the first six months of last year.
But all is not lost. Boshoff says families can prevent these problems from arising by following a few guidelines. Cutting down on screen time is the first rule. “Face-time is crucial. Make time to talk and connect every day. This is a time to connect, not to teach and criticise,” she stresses.
“Parents should lead by example – turn off your phone and encourage them to do the same when socialising or focusing on work. Encourage them to get involved in activities – as they start to re-engage they will feel better. Volunteer. Doing things for others is a powerful antidepressant and a self-esteem booster. Doing things together will be a great bonding experience and give them a sense of purpose. Your love, guidance and support can go a long way toward helping your teen overcome depression and get his life on track.”
Van der Merwe concludes: “Social workers deal with the results of unfocused parenting every day. Family units are falling apart, and children failing to reach their potential – we believe parents need more training and support to help them raise a healthy new generation. This means putting a stop to endless technological stimulation and giving your children personal attention and spending time with them.”
Bright Christmas lights. Festive music everywhere, telling us to feel jolly and get into the festive spirit – because it’s Christmas.
For many, it is a time of family gatherings and despite the past two year’s crisis management of almost all life situations, the Christmas feeling is felt in shops already.
People really want to feel “normal” again, and it is understandable that they are reaching towards a feeling of togetherness and belonging – the very things we have been denied these past two years.
There are however thousands who are without family. Some of them live on the street. Their experience of Christmas does not include lights and trees. Their biggest hope is to have food every day. Many others may well not be living on the street, but they do not know where to go since they do not have a family to be with. During the pandemic, many people have lost loved ones, whose empty seats will be difficult to cope with.
Money problems, financial stress, joblessness. 2021’s stressors are worse than that of 2020. There is still uncertainty, especially now with the new developments around the virus.
And many stand alone. Loneliness can affect anyone, even small children. Think of a single mom who has no family, who struggles to engender a Christmas feeling in her home. Small children especially are drawn to the trees, lights and gifts in the shops. And mom does not have a festive bone in her body. In fact, the stress of the holiday season may mean she really does not look forward to this time of year.
Against this backdrop, things can go wrong. Children who do not understand, become demanding. And mom feels guilty, too. Thus loneliness gets its claws into her. And smaller children feel it too, especially only children.
“Loneliness goes hand in hand with the lack of a normal feeling of belonging. Everyone is exposed to this. Parents can also use alcohol or drugs as a remedy for loneliness – with negative effects on the children. A parent who is under the influence cannot behave properly, and this is one contributor to family violence,” explains Ani Grobbelaar, social worker of CMR Gauteng Oos’ Lyttelton branch.
“Then, of course, there is the problem of parents working while the children are on holiday. Children left home alone without supervision causes their own problems. Older children go walking around and if you look for trouble, you will find it. Apart from the safety aspect, there is also boredom. No child can watch TV for 8 hours without becoming bored. They start looking for something to do, and drugs, alcohol, porn and online games easily fill this gap. Parents must do everything in their power to find alternatives to keep children from these bad influences.
“Not just violence but also child neglect increase during this time,” explains Henda van der Merwe, director of CMR Gauteng-Oos. “For us, there is no doubt that family violence will see a sharp increase in the coming weeks. At the end of two years of the global pandemic, we should not forget that the emotional toll of that still plays a role in families. Most people just want to forget that it happened, but we must remember that more than 30 % of our country’s people are jobless. The stress is bigger than in other years.
“The social workers in our organisation are confronted with much more than the need for food. Family support is of the utmost importance during the festive season,” she explains.
The question is how to handle it? There is no easy answer. “Stop. Think. How can what you do in the next 5 minutes, help another person through this period? Can a few minutes of your caring perhaps change his experience – and stop him from grabbing onto something to help him feel better. To care is to give – a few minutes could change a person’s life irrevocably,” Van der Merwe concludes.
Ten years ago little Praise was born in the Tembisa hospital. What should have been a joyous entry into the world, turned into tragedy when his mother failed to survive childbirth, leaving him an orphan. Sifiso spent the first months of his life at Tembisa hospital, waiting in vain for family members to claim him and take him into their care. Even the mother’s body remained unclaimed and ultimately, eight months old, social workers had to find him a loving home.
The boy, by this time called “Praise” by all who knew him, has developed to become a humble and loving young man, whose favourite book to read is The Holy Bible. Unfortunately, his foster care placement has become redundant and he had to be placed at a Children`s Home while social workers are exploring other foster care parents.
It is the social worker’s wish that Praise can enjoy a special 10th year birthday like other children.
We appeal to anyone who can sponsor Praise’s birthday and make it as special as possible. South Africa, Midrand, let’s join hands and give this special boy a birthday to remember.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY IN ADVANCE PRAISE. YOU ARE VERY SPECIAL TO US!!!
If you’d like to get involved, contact our Midrand branch here