We cannot afford to avert our gaze and play ignorant to the haunting spectre of teen suicide; we must summon our courage and boldly confront the harsh truth, shouldering the weight of responsibility to change this cruel reality.

By Themba Khumalo

Like a swarm of bees buzzing in a field of flowers, countless young people find themselves contemplating suicide, their minds swirling with thoughts as turbulent as a raging storm.

And like a daring tightrope walker, some of them take the perilous leap, attempting to dance with death, their actions as delicate and fragile as a glass sculpture. Tragically, in some cases, they succeed, their souls slipping away like a soft whisper carried away by the wind.

We steer clear of discussing suicide like a ship avoiding treacherous waters. It is like a prickly sweater that irritates our skin. We make the mistake of changing the subject like a chameleon changing its colours or avoiding it entirely like a squirrel dodging a falling acorn. That is as effective as a raindrop in a desert, unable to save teenagers who are as silent as shadows, grappling with the trials and tribulations of life.

We must pay more attention to the inherent challenges that come with being a human being, like a delicate flower facing the gusts of a wild storm.

Being alive is like a vast ocean, offering us opportunities to dive into deep connections and swim in waves of joy. But it is also like a thorny rose, pricking us with unbearable emotional pain, sometimes lingering like a persistent ache, and other times striking like a sudden lightning bolt. That is why an open conversation about suicide is as important as a lighthouse guiding ships through treacherous waters.

Teenage boys, like fierce warriors on a battlefield, employ methods of suicide that are as forceful as a charging bull, displaying their unwavering resolve to carry out their desperate intentions. That said, teenage girls attempt suicide more often than boys, like a river flowing faster than a gentle stream.

Understanding these trends within the various demographic subcategories is as important as a compass guiding a lost traveller through a dense forest. This will allow for interventions to be designed and recommended by experts like a sharpshooter hitting a bullseye instead of shooting blindly into the dark.

SADAG once said its call centres were receiving an influx of calls from younger children ( below ten years) who are as eager to end their lives as a thirsty desert is for rain. These preteens are like innocent butterflies, fluttering in the breeze of carefree bliss, unaware of the looming storm clouds of existential threats in the world. But the world is like a merciless storm, relentlessly battering them and refusing to cradle them like a tender sapling.

We cannot simply turn away and pretend not to see; we must bravely face the truth and take full responsibility to transform this brutal reality.

Bullying in our schools, oh boy, it’s like we only wake up from our slumber when a jaw-droppingly savage case of bullying manages to grab the attention of the media. Suddenly, we are all up in arms, expressing righteous fury, but as soon as the story fades from the news cycle, we just go back to our mundane lives, like it never even happened.

As active members of our school communities, it is crucial that we wholeheartedly participate in the creation of effective anti-bullying measures and diligently oversee their execution. Our ultimate goal is to establish secure havens for children, where they can thrive without the looming threats that may tragically push them towards self-destructive behaviours, even contemplating the unthinkable. Naturally, this endeavour necessitates the allocation of adequate resources.

SADAG, the superheroes of mental health, once revealed a shocking truth: They receive pleas for help from teachers, schools, and parents, even at the primary level. It seems like our beloved teachers are expected to don not just one, but multiple hats – that of an educator, a social worker, and even a psychologist. Talk about unfair workloads! But what is worse is that the powers that be seem to turn a blind eye to the dire lack of resources within the education system to tackle the emotional needs of our vulnerable youth, who are teetering on the edge of despair. It is a tragic tale of indifference and injustice.

We find ourselves in a perplexing predicament, where a mere band-aid solution won’t suffice. Merely entrusting our precious children to a fractured educational system is not the answer, nor can we burden our teachers with the impossible task of performing miracles. No, this intricate crisis demands a comprehensive approach that transcends sectors.

What adds to the complexity is the fact that every facet of our existence is entangled in this very discussion.

Amid this dialogue on suicide, the Department of Health seems to have gone AWOL. It is high time for the Departments of Basic Education and Social Development to join forces with the Department of Health, pooling their resources to support organisations like SADAG. They need to acknowledge that just like a full tummy is crucial for our children’s growth, mental health is an essential prerequisite for them to blossom into well-rounded, productive adults and engaged citizens.

And what about the influential non-state entities, like big businesses, who could lend a helping hand by financing civil society organisations that tirelessly toil for the betterment of all, including workplaces that undoubtedly do not want to hire individuals burdened by deep-rooted traumas that will inevitably surface?

It is time for action, for everyone to step up and make a difference.

Ours is a land where inequality and poverty loom large, where the economy stagnates and unemployment among the youth skyrockets to over 50%, and where the language of violence echoes through the hearts of all citizens. It is no wonder that the seeds of mental health struggles are sown.

The weight of these harsh realities can push individuals to the brink, leading to desperate acts of self-harm, like the tragic loss of life due to unemployment, the crushing disappointment of failing matric, or the overwhelming shame of being unable to provide for one’s children.

Teen suicide is like a haunting melody that echoes through the corridors of our democracy, exposing the hidden fractures within our society. It is a wake-up call, a reminder that we must rise above our shortcomings and strive for a better tomorrow.

Let us embark on a journey of self-love, where we nurture the seeds of compassion and understanding, creating a world where no teenager feels lost or alone.

Together, we can rewrite the symphony of despair into a harmonious anthem of hope.

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