The kids are not alright

10 Jun 2019

BY MPHO KUHLMANN

Parents like to think that they know what is going on with their children - and that they would know if their teen was suicidal.  But of course they are wrong. While most Batswana parents would be quick to declare that “the kids are alright” recent studies have revealed that behind the giggles and grins of many Batswana youths lurk dark clouds of depression and suicidal thoughts. About to fifty percent of Botswana adolescents have at one point or another entertained suicidal ideas.

A study conducted four years ago on “Suicide ideation and depression in university students in Botswana” by Iram Korband Ilse Elisabeth Plattner found that In total, 47.5% of the respondents reported suicide ideation, 28.7% reported previous suicide attempts.

The study found that, “the level of education of respondents’ mothers had an inverse relationship with suicide ideation and with depression in that those whose mothers had a tertiary level education were less likely to engage in suicide ideation and had significantly lower depression scores.”

Tshediso Moremi who works at Trade World in Gaborone offered a piece of advice to other parents: “Listen to your teen, and never assume that statements like “nobody cares if I live or die” are just drama. Instead of saying, “You don’t mean that,” ask them if they do mean it. Often parents worry that asking about suicide might “give them ideas,” but asking may be the only way to know and the best way to show your teen that you are taking them seriously. Sometimes it is just drama or some short-term blues after a breakup or another one of life’s inevitable disappointments. But when it comes to suicide, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. So ask the questions and seek for help.”

Moremi is right on the money. The common thread that runs through most researches on youth suicide is that that children need to know that someone has got their back, and unfortunately, many of them do not. Communication can be defined as the ability of family members to exchange their needs, feelings and desires with one another and to attend the changing needs of a family member in a positive manner.Family conflict, and poor child-parent communication in particular, are associated with increased suicide ideation among adolescents, Suicide deaths may not be recognized or may be misclassified as an accident or another cause of death mainly because sometimes suicide is not acknowledged or reported, due to its sensitive nature and the taboo that still surrounds it.

Poor communication within the family is also found in many cases of suicide, not only with the child or about the child's problems, but in general between family members. Direct conflicts with parents have a great impact, but so do the absence of communication and neglect of communication needs. Suicide still ranks as a leading cause of death among the young worldwide.

This view is further confirmed by another study: Psychosocial causes of suicide among youth and its \ implications on the family: Lessons for Botswana – by Hope Musaka Kunda. The report confirms previous studies which revealed that “another factor that has been found to influence suicide is that of parental attitude. .... As the parental attitude towards the child deteriorates the number of suicides among young people increases. Parents who are ambivalent in their demands upon their children often create uncertainty in the children. These children become emotionally withdrawn and depressed, and tend to turn towards suicide as means of coping with their situation. 

Kgomotso Jongman of Jongman Psychotherapy Clinic in Gaborone says “We first need to understand that suicide is a mental illness and it is usually an outcome of anxiety and depression.  As a society we don’t exactly know how to deal with mental illnesses nor can we differentiate between mental health and mental disorders. All these issues compound the issues of suicide. A lot of people tend to name call and blame parents whenever there’s a suicide of their child, we need to understand that a lot of parents don’t understand a lot about mental health or disorders, to them when a child has sudden fits of anger or something else they simply think they are being dramatic and will eventually get over themselves. Parents blame themselves enough when they find themselves in situations like this but the truth is they are overwhelmed. Parents are overwhelmed their own relationships, making sure the kids are clothed, fed and clean, societal obligations and pressures at work etc.  So they themselves have a lot of stress they are dealing with which leads to them missing the signs that another person might have seen as clear and in your face. The rate of depression is high in Botswana which means subsequently suicide rates are up too, dealing with suicide isn’t and shouldn’t just be about saying we’ll deal with awareness it should be more than that , we need to all be interdependent to fight, the society as well as the government.”

Mr. Patrick Zibochwa works at the Ministry Of Health, Mental Health and Rehabilitation division says “Depressed people often retreat into themselves, when secretly they're crying out to be rescued. Many times they're too embarrassed to reveal their unhappiness to others, including Mom and Dad. Boys in particular may try to hide their emotions, in the misguided belief that displaying the feeling of weakness. Let's not wait for children or youth to come to us with their problems or concerns. Knock on the door; park yourself on the bed, and say, "You seem sad. Would you like to talk about it? Maybe I can help." but most young adults who are thinking about suicide (suicidal ideation) display their troubled state of mind through troubled behaviours and actions. One trait common to families affected by a son's or daughter's suicide is poor communication between parents and child. However, there are usually three or more issues or factors going on all at once in an adolescent’s life at the time when he or she is thinking about taking his or her life. If your instinct tells you that an adolescent might be a danger to themselves, heed your instincts and don't allow them to be left alone. In this situation, it is better to overreact than to under react. Any written or verbal statement of "I want to die" or "I don't care anymore" should be treated seriously. Often, children who attempt suicide had been telling their parents repeatedly that they intended to kill themselves. Research supports that people who openly threaten suicide don't really intend to take their own lives; and that the threat is a desperate plea for help. While that is true much of the time, what mother or father would want to risk being wrong?”

Lesedi Kgope a self employed mother of two with a stall at the Gaborone bus station told Sunday Standard Lifestyle that:”I think parenting style is strongly associated with students’ suicidal ideation. There are some parents who force their children to follow their demands, and they do not respect their children’s thoughts and desires. In parents’ minds, the only parenting behavior that is good for children is to satisfy their need for clothing, food, housing and transportation. Some parents often have highly ambitious goals for their children, which are often manifested in parental discipline of their children’s studying. Parents burden their students with the pressure to learn and be perfect.”