Cape Town – Calls have mounted for government to equip teachers to identify depression and implement suicide prevention for learners before it is too late.
This after the Western Cape Education department (WCED) expressed shock at the news of two Grade 11 girls at La Rochelle High School who allegedly committed suicide last week.
Jade Gouws, 17, died on Wednesday evening at her family home in Drakenstein, while Zara Malherbe, 17, died on Friday afternoon.
Education MEC Debbie Schäfer said counselling had been arranged and the school was being supported by the WCED, adding it was tragic people reached the point where they saw no alternative but to end their life.
South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) operations director Cassey Chambers said suicide was a growing concern and there needed to be a continued conversation around teen suicide by equipping those who engaged with teens, “by giving teachers practical advice and tools on how to identify and talk about teen depression and suicide, they can help save the lives of many students who may be feeling depressed”.
Chambers said they had already seen recent reports of children as young as 12 dying by suicide.
Education activist Hendrick Makaneta said Covid-19 had also created a challenge of inadequate preparedness among learners. It was for that reason the government should find a way to equip teachers or dispatch social workers to schools with a view to assist in tracking learners who show suicidal signs.
“We have already lost a number of learners as a result of suicide and the situation, if not addressed, might increase further as the examination period continues,” Makaneta said.
Health activist and Sadag board member Dr Sindi van Zyl said teachers played an important role in preventing suicide – they had daily contact with many young people, and were able to notice what students said, did and wrote.
Van Zyl said some learners felt more comfortable to open up and share their problems with their teachers rather than a parent or friend.
“So equipping teachers on identifying warning signs, how to speak to teens about depression and suicide, and what to do to get help for a learner who is suicidal or at-risk is crucial to preventing suicide,” she said.
Schäfer urged learners struggling to cope emotionally to reach out to their teachers who can assist in getting them the help they need, or to call the Safe Schools Hotline: 0800 45 46 47.
Sadag said if you are not sure what to do or where to go, please call Sadag’s suicide helpline (24 hours) 0800 567 567 or SMS 31393 offering free telephone counselling, crisis intervention, information and referrals nationwide.