Saturday, September 19, 2009

Let’s prevent suicide amongst young people

I was invited by a dynamic young organisation, called MAD (Mothers and Daughters) here in the South of Johannesburg to speak on suicide amongst teenagers. This multi-religious group aims to build positive young girls, through information and support networks. The event took place at the Bill Jardine stadium and various people spoke including rugby heroes, Laurence Sephaka and Aswin Willemse and head physio of Orlando Pirates soccer club, John Williams.

My input was small yet, I received a lot from this interaction. I stood as some-one who experienced suicide in my own family, but also, I shared that one of our church's leaders committed suicide last year. We were perplexed, gutted, broken. It however challenged us to look deeper, to realise that no-one is to blame, for this illness.

I said:

The World Health Organisation released a report, in this month, finding that between the ages 10-24 years, suicide is amongst the top three reasons for death, especially amongst boys. Amongst the guys the biggest killer remains.... car accidents. I'm not going to say anything about drags tonight. This kind of car accidents rather refers to the toxic mix between speed, booze and adrenaline. It's what happens on our roads in the 'normal' run of things.

All over the world, (England; Israel; Ireland; China) suicide is on the increase, or at least amongst the top killers of young people. But, I believe we can prevent it. I believe we can turn it around. The WHO states, "Most causes of death of young people are preventable and treatable."
Daisy Mafubelu, from the WHO, states,
It is clear from these findings that considerable investment is needed - not only from the health sector, but also from sectors including education, welfare, transport, and justice - to improve access to information and services, and help young people avoid risky behaviours that can lead to death."

But there is another reason why, I think, we can turn these statistics around. I am reminded of a clip in a movie, from the film School of Rock, where Dewy (Jack Black) is a stand–in teacher for his friend. He is ask some deep question about his philosophy of education, especially on testing and then he says that he doesn't believe in testing, because he "believe the children are our are future"

Some of the teachers, hear this and say, but... doesn't that comes from a song.. he just continues...

Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be

The story of this song is fascinating. It was of course, sung by Whitney Houston, but released originally for Mohammed Ali's 1977 movie called The Greatest, sung, of course by jazz artist, George Benson. This song was written by Michael Masser and a young woman called Linda Creed. She was fighting breast cancer and these were her words.

Everybody searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone who fulfill my needs
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me

I decided long ago, never to walk in anyone's shadows
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I'll live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity
Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all

I believe the children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be

Greatest love of all


Linda Creed died in 10 April 1986, a few weeks before her hit made number one by Whitney Houston...and today this song lives on…This is the kind of spirit that will enable us to overcome teenage suicide today.

However, we need to do more. We can to do three things. This is taken from a campaign amongst high schools in Sydney Australia. It's called ACT
1) Acknowledge:
We need to acknowledge that there is a crisis of youth/teen mental health. Suicide is not a moral issue, it's a health issue. Let's take it out of the right and wrong, let's acknowledge when things are not well, let's allow young people to speak out when they feel they are not coping, when they have failed, in terms of expectations. Let's allow this, in order for us to grow. Many times we as parents need to set the example by asking for help, when we are not coping. Acknowledge when we struggle.
Further, we also need to say youth depression, one of the big causes of youth suicide, is a disease like any other, like flue, cold, diabetes, etc, and it can be treated. There is treatment and help available.
2) CARE: We need to build a community on a culture of care, instead of a culture of greed and materialism. What are our greatest assets, our greatest values- to win, to bling ? Sometimes, we as parents buy our children stuff, when they simply are looking for some-one who will be able to see the beauty that they already posses inside and to care. Let me say this: the greatest need of young people today... is to be some-one for some-one. Am I right here... the cell phone, the labels, the whack hairstyles, Mxit, Facebook, Twitter... is all about friendship... to be some-one for some- one. The greatest love of all is happening to me…learning to love yourself, is the greatest love of all (Linda Creed).
3) Tell:
If you know its going down with your friend, some-one in class.. tell. In Israel, amongst young people it was found that they don't want to talk because they might be considered to squeal, they will be labelled a 'tell-tale'. We need to speak out. Speak to a teacher, to a counsellor, a doctors, nurse, pastor, imam, who-ever... just tell. I like the picture on one Suicide Prevention Facebook groups "Never let your buddy fight alone". Another Facebook group, Suicide Prevention gives guidelines on what to spot for and If you see these tell, because you might save lives.
Your friend might be
- Talking about dying (Or any form of harming oneself)
- Recent loss or losses
- Change in personality (Sad, irritable, anxious, withdrawn, apathetic)
- Change in behaviours
- Change in sleep patterns (Can't sleep, nightmares, etc)
- Change in appetite (Not eating enough or overeating)
- Fear of losing control (Going "crazy")
- Loss of interest in things once enjoyed
- Low self esteem (Feeling worthless, self-hatred, a burden, shame)
- No hope for future (Believes things will never get better, nothing will change)

Let me conclude with this: we are all vulnerable, our children even more, given the developmental challenges they face, but we need to continue to keep the spirit strong-because we can win this fight. It will not be easy all the time, in your own life, in the life of your friend: The song of Linda Creed ended off with these words.

And if by chance, that special place
That you've been dreaming of
Leads you to a lonely place
Find your strength in love

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