Lockdown takes toll on teens’ mental health, says community worker

In South Africa, a suicide occurs, on average, every 40 seconds and an attempt is made every three seconds, according to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group.

A year of lockdown has taken its toll on teenagers’ mental health, leaving many feeling withdrawn and depressed, says a community worker in the valley who fears these young people could turn to self-harm or suicide.

Johann Kikillus, the director of Soteria Ministries, says the problem is compounded by teenagers often being unable or unwilling to get help and parents who are uninvolved in their children’s lives.

Mr Kikillus is also the founder of the Ocean View Care Centre, a daytime refuge for underprivileged children in the neighbourhood. He has extensive experience counselling people from all walks of life, including teenagers.

He believes parents and the community can do more to cushion young people from the psychological impact of lockdown.

“The issue needs to be addressed as soon as possible before it spirals out of control,” he says.

In a recent case, he says, two teenagers who overdosed on drugs, both revealed to him they had no one to talk to and did not know where to go to for help.

“Teenagers feel overwhelmed and alone and that they feel like they have no one to talk to or to turn to for help,” says Mr Kikillus.

Teachers and parents should be alert to warning signs, such as writing and talking about suicide, becoming withdrawn from society, mood swings, drug and alcohol abuse and self-harm.

And it’s vital, he adds, for teenagers to be social and to be part of youth groups, and parents should discourage isolation.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), 60% of people who commit suicide are depressed.

Sadag founder and director Zane Wilson says there’s a suicide in South Africa, on average, every 40 seconds and an attempt every three seconds.

Hanging, she says, is the most common method of suicide, followed by shooting, gassing and burning.

Risk factors for suicide among the young, she says, include the presence of mental illness especially depression, conduct disorder, alcohol and drug abuse, previous suicide attempts and the availability of firearms in the home.

Sadag provides free telephonic counselling, support, information and nationwide referrals to support groups, psychologists, psychiatrists and clinics, seven days a week, 365 days a year. If you need help, call 0800 21 22 23 or SMS 31393.