South Africa

Gauteng education dept tackles rise in suicide in schools

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To curb the high number of suicides among learners, the Gauteng Department of Education vowed to deploy 500 learner support agents (LSA).

This was as the department witnessed a significant increase in learners taking their lives.

According to departmental spokesperson Steve Mabona, there have been 40 alleged incidents of suicides in Gauteng schools since the beginning of the 2023 academic year.

“As the department, we are devastated by these deaths and believe those numbers constitute far too many young lives that have been taken away from their families, friends, and our schools, before reaching their full potential.

“We pledge our solidarity and support to the families and friends who were befallen by these tragic, premature deaths,” Mabona said.

He said suicide was the bleakest reality, adding that it was also the leading cause of death among young people, particularly learners.

He said learners faced many challenges at learning institutions, which left them feeling vulnerable, hopeless and overwhelmed.

“Anxiety, depression, bullying, online abuse, violence, and cyberbullying are contributing factors to suicides among learners.

“With the development and expansion of digital technologies, learners are increasingly falling victim to online abuse and violence.”

Mabona said his department has engaged the health department to understand the mortality analysis of suicide to understand the causes and drivers.

“We are happy that the health department has gratefully accepted the task and is currently conducting the assessments,” said Mabona.

He said his department was well aware of the huge psychological impact that the situation had on learners, teachers, and the greater school community.

National Centre for Child Protection COO Dayna Rowland told Rekord that the growing number of children taking their own lives was a distressing and alarming trend worldwide.

Rowland said South Africa was no stranger to this phenomenon.

She said it was important for the centre to encourage parents to regularly check up on their children, adding that they needed to be more proactive as opposed to being reactive.

“We have been visiting schools countrywide and through our 262 child protection hotlines we have seen a noticeable increase in cases of self-harm and suicide attempts among children,” Rowland said.

According to Rowland, 20% of high school learners have tried to take their own life. “A greater percentage has written a note on why they commit suicide,” she added.

“The Centurion Child Protection hotline has been visiting schools in the area for many years.

“More and more children stay behind after our sessions, to speak to our counsellors.”

Rowland further said some of the schools in Centurion took for granted the enormity of the pandemic of child suicide.

She further said these issues could be addressed if schools would educate parents, and communities on how to recognise the warning signs.

Here is how Rowland said awareness should be created:

– Schools should educate learners on the severe consequences that bullying poses.

– Teachers should be educated and informed of their responsibilities to report concerns.

– Parents should create open lines of communication with their children and seek help when necessary.

– Parenting talks, programmes, and support groups are beneficial.

– Store firearms and harmful substances securely to prevent them from falling into the hands of children.

– Schools should be investing in their own counsellors and communities should have access to affordable mental healthcare.

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