On top of the intense life changes that teenagers and young adults go through, young people today are exposed to many stressors that fewer among the older generations experienced. Consider the pressure to perform at school as well as increasing poverty, unemployment and violence. While it has a lot of positives, social media makes many young people feel that their peers are having more fun than they are, besides the possibility of cyberbullying and cybercrimes.
Mental illness among the youth is rising steadily – depression, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse. Yet they receive little guidance about how to maintain mental health and wellbeing. Young people and their mental health is the focus of the World Mental Health Day campaign on October 10 this year.
The World Health Organisation reported that nearly half of mental illness starts at the age of 14 and that it is mostly not noticed and not treated. The South African Anxiety and Depression Group (SADAG) recently revealed that nine per cent of all teenage deaths were due to suicide. The ages between 10 and 19 were the highest risk group for suicide, with one in four teens having attempted suicide. There have even been recent reports of suicide in children as young as six and eight years old.
While depression does not necessarily lead to suicide, most people who commit suicide are depressed. Mental illness can be prevented if parents and teachers help young people to develop life skills that build mental resilience – skills that help them to cope with the daily challenges which they face. It’s also important to recognise the warning signs of mental distress so that serious consequences can be prevented by early intervention.
Early signs include: Losing interest in normal activities, withdrawing, sadness, irritability, anxiety, easily angered, insomnia, not being to concentrate and depression, amongst others.
Most people considering suicide do give hints to family or friends before the time and any threats should be taken seriously.
Be willing to listen, ask the person about what is troubling them, let them talk about their feelings and acknowledge them. Explain that there is help available and encourage and assist them to get professional help if necessary. The best place to start is a school counsellor, a local clinic or a medical practitioner.