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Matric results: A trigger for death by suicide

Bonile Khanyi

After six long weeks of writing exams and another five weeks of anxiously waiting for results, the matric class of 2017 will on Thursday finally know whether or not they will move on to the next phase of their education.  

For some, the results will not be cause for celebration.

Learners who do not pass matric and those who do not reach their target pass rates often feel alone, isolated and self-loathing. This can cause anxiety and depression, which can sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts.

According to the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), 9.5% of teen deaths in South Africa are caused by suicide and one of the triggers is exam disappointment.

In December last year, Inside Education reported the deaths of two grade 11 learners who died from suicide after finding out they did not make it to matric.

Speaking to Inside Education, psychiatrist Zamo Mbele, said while it’s normal to be worried about how one performed, some learners who believe they haven’t done well tend to worry too much, which leads to being anxious or depressed.

“Anxiety is a real and severe worry that does not respond very easily to facts and reality testing and checking. So, if we imagine somebody with such a very heavy worry, we can imagine that sometimes that worry can feel like it’s overwhelming or overpowering for the person,” Mbele said.  

Mbele said sometimes people felt there was no way to deal with their worry which then leads to death by suicide. 

Despite the number of support structures provided to learners by the Department of Basic Education, some learners felt there wasn’t enough help Mbele said. She said parents should support their children ahead of the release of matric results.

“Parents should have open and honest conversations with their children leading up to the results. They should reassure their children that it’s not the end of the world. And they can also be there through the process of getting the results, be with their children, help them think and make sense of the results. This will help learners as they often feel alone at times like these,” said Mbele.

Speaking to Inside Education, the department’s spokesperson Elijah Mhlanga said learners who did not qualify to further their studies this year must not consider suicide.

“Suicide is not a solution, in fact people shouldn’t even think about taking their own life after they’ve realised they failed,” he said.

Mhlanga said learners should take advantage of the second chance support program, among other options provided by the department.

“We have the second chance support program aimed at students who did not make the grade. The aim of the programme is to provide free support to learners who need to rewrite a maximum of two subjects in February and March and also those who wrote three or more subjects in November and will complete the rest in June,” said Mhlanga.

“Learners can also write their supplementary exams or apply to have their exam paper re-marked or rechecked.”

Mhlanga said those that don’t make it should not let failure define who they are, but take it as a lesson that sometimes one needs to keep trying to  achieve a desired goal.

“We don’t succeed in everything we do in life and failure does not define us. It should rather make us stronger and wiser so that we can carry on and learn from our mistakes,” said Mhlanga.

According to the SADAG, the most effective way to prevent suicide is to learn to recognise the signs of someone at risk, take these signs seriously and know how to respond to them.

Here’s a list of some of the signs to look out for:

  • Suicidal talk and a previous suicide attempt
  • Current talk of suicide or making a plan
  • A strong wish to die or a preoccupation with death and dying
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Signs of depression, such as moodiness, hopelessness, withdrawal, difficulty with appetite and sleep, and loss of interest in usual activities
  • Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
  • Hinting about not being around in the future or saying goodbye
  • Behavioural changes and taking excessive risks
  • Making arrangements to take care of unfinished business.

If you or someone you know might need help with depression, anxiety or thoughts of suicide, here are a few places you can get help:

  • South African Anxiety and Depression Group (www.sadag.org).
  • SADAG also runs a counselling helpline that is open 7 days a week from 8am to 8pm.
  • Concerned parents, teachers or peers can contact a SADAG counsellor toll-free on 0800 21 22 23 or 0800 12 13 14, or SMS 31393.
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