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RETHINKING SUICIDE TODAY

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Sir,

Suicide is a significant issue among teenagers. Suicide is now assumed the third leading cause of death among 15 to 44 age groups in many regions of the world and second leading cause of death among 10 to 24 years of age people (Shilubane et al, 2013).

The suicide attempt rates are higher in females while death rates are higher in males (Stuart, 2009). In young people suicidal ideations are associated with multiple external and internal factors such as stressful life events, depression, parents’ child conflict, lack of parental support, hopelessness, history of suicidal behaviour in family, child sexual abuse, risky behaviour which are drug and alcohol abuse, aggressive impulsive behaviour, body image dissatisfaction, and biological risk factors.


Culture is a difficult concept to address because it is defined and used differently between different disciplines, and even within the same discipline. Culture can be taken to include all aspects of society, to describe an entire way of life of a people.


However, it is often distinguished from social structure: culture is a system of meanings and symbols that define how people see the world and their place in it, while social structure refers to the pattern of social relations within a society (Eckersley, 2001). Thus suicide has become a multidisciplinary issue. Adults who knew the teen might say she or he was mentally unstable and depressed. But what led that teen to the depression that caused him or her to kill herself? It could have been the fact that she faced discrimination and poverty (cultural factors) or that he or she was a victim of cyber bullying (social factor).


Many think of suicide as primarily an issue within the mental health field. Yet, youth suicide can be explained in large part by social and cultural factors as well.

Therefore, when researchers attempt to uncover the risk factors of suicide, or the elements that increase the likelihood that someone will commit suicide, they need to not only look at mental health, but also social and cultural risk factors. Youth suicide is a widely researched topic because of its disturbing prevalence. For a child social and familial relationships are key to emotional growth and happiness. Therefore, when an aspect of their social life goes awry, it can be a risk factor for suicide. Social workers associate suicide prevalence with:


Lack of social support: Youth develop their identities, self-esteem and confidence by interactions and support from others. Everyone, including youth, need to feel like they belong. Therefore, if a youth is socially disconnected, a social loner, or is isolated from family and friends, this can pose a risk for low self-esteem, depression and suicide.


Bullying: Research has shown a gender difference in this risk factor. Being the bully versus being the victim has shown to be a high risk factor for boys, whereas for girls, being the victim is more of a social risk factor for suicide.
Non-acceptance of sexual orientation: Youth who face disapproval, ridicule and rejection when they come out to family and friends are eight times more likely to commit suicide than teens who are accepted by family and friends.


Internet and social media: Youth who are on social media are at higher risk of encountering cyber bullying. This can be detrimental to their mental health, causing anxiety, shame and low self-esteem. Social media can also be a place for depressed teens to meet other suicidal teens. Here they may make suicide pacts or teach each other methods of how to commit suicide.


There is increasing evidence that social media is linked to depression for reasons such as fear of missing out or comparing oneself to others who seem like they are more successful, social, attractive and happier.


Lastly, youth are at a higher risk for suicide when they see a celebrity suicide in the news. Already vulnerable teens may follow the celebrities’ lead and commit suicide as well, which is called copycat suicide.


Loss of relationship: Youth who have lost a loved one to death or even broken up with a girl or boyfriend are more at risk due to the immense emotional pain and feelings of grief that most youth feel when they lose someone that they extremely loved.
Perception of being a burden: If a youth feels like they are a burden - for example if they are physically handicapped and have to be taken care of - there may be an increased risk of depression and suicide.

Prudence Hlatshwayo









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