Teen Suicide Prevention Week – Surviving and thriving in teenage years | Western Cape Government



Teen Suicide Prevention Week – Surviving and thriving in teenage years

19 February 2024

Adolescence (age 13–19) is a time of many firsts and a time of change. If you’re a teen, it marks the start of new friendships and experiences; you may take on new opportunities and have more freedom to make choices for your future.

But young people may face challenges too. These hurdles may include bullying, low self-esteem, or struggling to cope with difficult emotions, family life, friends and self-care. Finding healthy ways to navigate these changes and challenges is critical.

In February, between 14 – 21 February, we mark Teen Suicide Prevention Week and are reminded of the importance of mental wellness in our young people. Global research indicates that encouraging and practicing wellness in teen years can help young people flourish and improve the quality of their lives.

“Although speaking to children or adolescents about mental health challenges may evoke discomfort at times, it remains imperative to regularly acknowledge and engage them in conversation pertaining to their mental health, their challenges and their overall well-being. Doing this encourages and fosters open, non-judgmental and ongoing dialogue to discuss and address stressors in their lives, explore adaptive coping- skills, as well as promotes health-seeking behaviour,” says Western Cape Government Health and Wellness youth mental health counsellor, Zelah Dodgen, who works with young people in Ravensmead, Ruyterwacht and Elsies River.

Zelah stresses the importance of preventive measures, such as healthy living and listening to young people to protect their wellbeing. “No individual is immune to life’s stressors. This applies to our young people as well. This is why young children and adolescents need to be attentively listened to - what they say and don’t say - and their experiences validated. We all have a collective duty to normalise speaking about mental wellness and challenges within our homes, schools and communities. Mental wellness challenges are nothing to be ashamed of, neither is talking about it. There are no disadvantages when it comes to taking care of your mental wellness.

"Let us unite in focusing on preventative measures and increase our advocacy efforts to further highlight available resources and raise awareness about the common symptoms or warning signs displayed by those experiencing a decline in their mental health. Struggling with traumatic and distressing life-events does not make you less than, it makes you human and every individual is deserving of the appropriate support and help available. Mental wellness matters. You matter!”

Here are some ways that teens can improve mental, emotional and physical wellness. This guide, approved by our health experts, can be used by young people or parents raising youth. 

1. Access support online or in person

Why: It’s quick, easy and there are trusted sources online. You can get help anonymously; this means you do not need to share your personal information. You can also benefit from seeing a nurse in person. Your care will be confidential and it’s free at public clinics.

How: Young people can access accurate and fun information online from B-Wise. B-wise provides honest information about body changes, sexual and reproductive health and other questions young people may have about their health. Visit www.bwisehealth.com to access free information. B-Wise also links to you to services such as free counselling. All you need to do is send a please call me to 083 323 1023, and a trained health expert at LoveLife can assist you with your questions or concerns.

If you are experiencing abuse or need counselling, or you’re concerned about a friend, you could also call the Western Cape Education Department’s Safe Schools hotline for support: 0800 45 46 47.

You can also get free help from the Cipla Mental Health Helpline. Speak to a trained counsellor. Send a SMS to 31393 (24/7), call 0800 456 789 (24/7) or WhatsApp 076 882 2775 (8AM – 5PM) or call the free 24/7 emergency suicide helpline for help. Speak to a trained counsellor that you can trust. Call 0800 567 567 any time of the day or night. 

Alternatively, speak to someone you trust like a teacher at school or your religious group, your school nurse or visit your local clinic. Find your nearest clinic here: https://www.westerncape.gov.za/directories/facilities/944

Not sure if your teen needs professional support, learn about the warning signs here: https://www.westerncape.gov.za/news/let%E2%80%99s-talk-don%E2%80%99t-wait-your-teen-come-you

Parents can also access information from UNICEF (United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund). UNICEF Parenting brings together some of the world’s leading experts to support you with helpful tips, insights and facts. Learn more here: https://www.unicef.org/parenting  

2. Find healthy coping skills

Why: Young people are learning how to deal with new experiences and building habits. Learning healthy coping mechanisms can help you to make healthy choices when faced with challenges and build resilience.

How: Find out what works to help you or your teen to cope. Whether you’re feeling stressed or anxious or you’re learning how to care for yourself, there are ways to deal with your feelings in without harming yourself. This includes:

  • Practice breathing exercises: Nobody feels happy all the time. It’s okay to feel angry or sad. Practice deep breathing. This may help you to reduce stress.
  • Keep a journal: Use your phone or a notebook to write down your feelings. If you’re feeling insecure, keep a list of everything you like about yourself and check it regularly or put your list where you can see it every day.
  • Listen to music: Research shows that listening to music can reduce stress or anxiety, improve your mood and the quality of your sleep. Pay attention to how music makes you feel and choose a song that works for you.
  • Exercise or dance: Regular exercise releases feel-good brain chemicals, which supports your mental well-being. Dance when you’re feeling stressed or watch an exercise video on YouTube. Exercise may also include walking, swimming or games. Parents can join in and support young people when exercising at home or outdoors.
  • Choose healthy foods: Did you know healthy foods like fruits and leafy green veggies is good for a healthy brain? Food with lots of sugar, fizzy drinks, and energy drinks can make you feel tired and anxious.
  • Get enough sleep: Getting at least 8 hours of sleep per night can help you to manage your stress levels and help you to focus while at school.
  • Practice time management: Creating a routine can help you to get things done that matter to you, like schoolwork or making time to practice for an extra mural activity, such as soccer, or spending time with family. Routines can help you deal with stress as it provides structure in your day despite possible changes.

3. Set boundaries

Why: Parents can teach children to set boundaries. Knowing your boundaries and what is important to you can protect your peace and safety. For example, making choices that are good for your health and your future. Say no to things that are not good for you.

How: Be honest about your physical boundaries, such as your personal space, privacy, and things you don’t feel comfortable with or don’t consent to. Your feelings are important. Speak up when you don’t feel comfortable or valued. Speak to other people with respect and ask them to do the same. You are worthy, loved, and enough. 

4. Be aware of social media use

Why: Social media has many benefits but can be harmful to young people, especially if you or a friend is being bullied online or someone is spreading false information about you.

How: Remember you can report harmful posts to the platform you’re using and lay a charge at the police station. Ask a trusted adult, friend or teacher for help. It is also important not to spread false information about others. Other ways to protect yourself may include:

  • Use trusted online sources. Only trust advice from trusted and official sources. Remember, anybody can create and share information on social media.
  • Don’t compare yourself to the highlight reels shared by others. What you see on social media is not real but created to look good.

Parents can support children by:

  • Talking to them about social media, this includes what’s appropriate and what is not, how social media makes them feel and the amount of screen time allowed per day.
  • Encourage your teen to avoid online bullying and gossip, and ensure they know how to stay safe online.
  • Talk to your child about monitoring their social media activity without invading their privacy. You can set up Google Family Link on your children’s devices to protect them online.

5. Know the qualities of good friends 

Why: Positive friendships are important in teenage years, as you become more independent, decide who you want to be and how you want to live. A good friend will be a companion, provide support and help you to make healthy choices that won’t harm you or others. Knowing the qualities of a good friend can have a profound impact on your well-being and future.

How: Every parent hopes for their children to have good friends and to be a good friend to others. While young people choose their friends, parents can encourage open communication about friendships and use this an opportunity to guide young people.

Here are a few things to consider on good friendships:

  • A good friend respects your boundaries and won’t put you in uncomfortable situations or try to control you.
  • A good friend won’t pressure you to take risks or use harmful things like drugs or alcohol, or encourage you to engage in sexual activity when you are not ready.
  • A good friendship should make you feel good about yourself and celebrate you.
  • A good friend will respect your opinions, feelings, and make you feel included.

If you’re struggling to build friendships, feel isolated or are at the centre of any form of bullying, remember to speak to someone you trust, like a friend, family member or teacher. You could also make use of online helplines to get anonymous support. 


How to know if your friend needs help

If you’re concerned about your friend’s well-being, there are a few warning signs. These include:

  • They stop taking care of themselves, for example, they don’t bath regularly and are eating less than usual.
  • They make jokes about hurting themselves or others.
  • They don’t want to spend time with friends anymore and prefer being alone.
  • They have unpredictable mood swings, feel angry or sad all the time, or struggle to sleep, are doing risky things.

If you notice any of these signs, please be kind to your friend and reach out to a safe adult or teacher for support. Remember that help is available, and you are not alone.