BY MPHO KUHLMANN
If Rutgers University researcher Julie Livingstone were to draw a facial identikit of Botswana’s suicide victim it would most likely be a black and white sketch of a depressed university student overwhelmed by parental pressure to succeed.
Among the many narratives of potential suicide victims in her research paper: Suicide, risk and investment in the heart of the African miracle Livingstone paints a picture of an emblematic “university student, buckling under the loneliness and tremendous pressure to succeed in a life far from home.”
To put the crisis into context, consider these statistics: A World Health Organisation study has revealed that suicide is the second leading cause of death among those aged 15 to 29, and Botswana recorded the 7th highest number of suicides in Africa. Anecdotal evidence suggests that in Botswana, holiday seasons are among the peak times that suicide occurs. It is usually towards the end of the year ÔÇö when suicidal behaviour is linked to examination stress and pressure. Students want to get into university, or complete their degrees.
In her research paper, Livingstone quotes a Botswana hospital official warning that, “the holiday season is upon us and we need to prepare ourselves for the inevitable rash of suicides.” The research paper details how “youth accuse parental culture of being overly critical without allowing for openness of communication.”
The findings confirm a number of other local and international research findings.
A recent study from Arizona State University found that ‘relentless pressure’ from parents meant that children were twice as likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Sleep problems, a disconnection from parents, anxiety, self-destructive behaviour and behavioral problems can also arise from pressure.”
Another 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.”
This view is further confirmed by another study: Psychosocial causes of suicide among youth and its \ implications on the family: Lessons for Botswana ÔÇô 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.
Kgomotso Jongman of Jo’Speaks in Gaborone says, “It is very common for parents to live out their dreams through their children. This is particularly true when they feel they have failed in some way or are insecure about some aspect of their life. A father who narrowly missed being recruited into a football team might try to ensure that his son makes the cut; a mother who ended up pursuing banking for the money might encourage her daughter to go into the arts. But this behavior profoundly restricts what your children can become and makes them feel boxed in by someone else’s expectations. To counteract this tendency, you might start by rethinking the kinds of activities you enroll your children in. Instead of focusing on your own fantasies about what you wanted to do or be, ask yourself, what does your child want? This means listening more carefully to your child and being perceptive to the things that appear to give your child happiness. Does your son light up when he runs or dances or paints? Use this to guide what you sign your child up for, rather than focusing on your own notions about what is enriching. This is a good starting point for beginning to learn who your child is and fostering a relationship on his or her own terms.”
Speaking to Sunday Standard Lifestyle, Titi Nyadza, the public relations officer at the Ministry Of Education said teachers try their best to identify kids who might be under pressure to overachieve but don’t always manage.” We are not able to identify these learners. There may be cases where children have been identified as being under stress which on investigation turns out to be to perform well in exams etc. This stress is more common than is documented and some learners need help and may not be getting all the help they need. We maintain an open door policy for our Guidance Staff in schools who have counseling training. They are also networked with social services and can offer support if learners are identified. We have no record of such of depression amongst kids in all levels due to the pressure to overachieve. However, we do feel that teachers play a crucial role in making sure kids aren’t pushed too far. Teachers have a role to play in engaging parents on one on one interview during Open Days and to offer advice and outline achievements to learners.”