Teenage suicide on the rise according to Prof. Lourens Schlebusch


According to Prof. Lourens Schlebusch, an international expert and author on suicide, suicide rates among youngsters is growing in South Africa and becoming a major health issue.

Schlebusch, who is also an Emeritus Professor of Behavioural Medicine at the Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, University of KwaZulu-Natal, said suicide rates often correlated with age and gradually increased with age. However, according to statistics released by Life Mental Health, the age group with the highest risk of depression and suicide in South Africa is 10 to 19 years.

“Worldwide, approximately one death by suicide occurs every 40 seconds and one attempt is made every one to three seconds,” said Schlebusch. “By 2020, these predictions are expected to increase worldwide to one death every 20 seconds and one suicidal attempt made every one to two seconds. Such figures indicate that, on average, more people globally die annually from suicide than they do during a war.”

Read Men more likely to commit suicide than women

Schlebusch added that preventative programmes and initiatives have been developed around the world but that South Africa was behind in this regard. Nationally, 9.5 per cent of non-natural deaths of youngsters is due to suicide with young girls at a higher risk. Schlebusch said many parents and guardians often did not take the threats or signs of suicidal behaviour seriously. Most believe the behaviour to be mere gestures or manipulative tactics. This response often makes the issue worse and increases a youngster’s risk of committing suicide.

He said recognising certain behaviours could play a vital role in preventing death and called for the implementation of a national suicide preventative programme.

Life Mental Health offers a list of several warning signs that could show the risk of suicidal behaviour:

  • Talking about death and suicide, as well as feeling hopeless, is a warning sign that should be taken very seriously
  • Take note of changes in appetite or weight loss and increased fatigue. Persons at risk of suicide will also speak or move with unusual speed or slowness
  • Depression is a serious condition and shows a variety of symptoms including the lack of desire to participate in activities that the individual enjoyed doing previously, depressive moods and changes in sleeping patterns
  • Various factors also increase the risk behaviours such as extreme anxiety or agitation, a history of excessive alcohol or drug abuse, history of physical or emotional illness and feelings of hopelessness or desperation.

If you know anyone showing any of these types of behaviours, consult your local general practitioner or hospital regarding the necessary steps to be taken to help the person in need.


Sadag Suicide Crisis Line – 0800 567 567, SMS 31393

Life Line National Counselling Line – 0861 322 322

Childline 24-hour toll-free helpline – 0800 055 555

Nikita Fernandes

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