27 February 2006
The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag) says it has received an “overwhelming” response after launching a new SMS service for depressed teenagers.
The initiative aims to help curb the high levels of teen suicide in the country. Suicide is said to account for around nine percent of all teenage deaths in South Africa.
The new service allows teens in distress to reach Sadag by typing a message on their cellphones and sending it to 31393. No keywords or e-mail addresses are needed, and the service is open from 8am to 8pm, seven days a week.
According to Sadag founder Zane Wilson, messages comes directly to Sadag’s call centre computers within seconds. A skilled counsellor replies to each message by typing a response into the computer.
“This service is a new and exciting way for teenagers around South Africa to reach out for help,” Wilson said. “Teenagers often prefer to communicate via SMS, as they may feel uncomfortable expressing themselves verbally.”
Wilson says the facility is instant, and that teens in crisis will never get a “busy” signal when they need help.
“The service is cheaper than a telephone call, as messages are charged at standard SMS rates,” Wilson said. “In this way, teenagers around the country can get help, information and practical advice on how to deal with depression and suicidal feelings.”
Teens can also request school talks and find mental health resources in their area.
The new facility is available across all three cellphone networks, with MTN, Vodacom and Cell C jointly agreeing to support it.
Sadag runs the national toll-free suicide line 0800 567 567, which takes a huge number of calls from teenagers who are calling for themselves or on behalf of a friend.
Depression is treatable
“It is not hard to see why serious depression and suicide are connected,” says Wilson. “Depression involves a long lasting sad mood that doesn’t let up and a loss of pleasure in things you once enjoyed.
“It involves thoughts about death, negative thoughts about oneself, a sense of worthlessness, and to a teen girl of 15 who has been constantly abused by her stepfather, a boy who has lost his elder brother due to gang violence, or a child of 12 whose mother has recently died of Aids, sometimes they feel there is nothing to look forward to or that life would be less painful if they were to end it.”
However, depression is treatable, says Wilson. “There is help, and we show them all their options. With treatment, over 70% can make a recovery.”
Sadag outreach coordinator Lucette Mukendi says depression among teenagers is often due to deaths in the family or broken families.
“It also comes in the form of chemical imbalance,” Mukendi says. “Say your mother had depression – chances are that you are going to have one as well. It works like cancer, it runs through the family.”
Mukendi says teens also often considered suicide when they had problems in their love relationships – and added that when teens planned to commit suicide, they would often tell their friends, but ask them to keep it secret.
“Our message to all teens is: rather speak out and lose the friendship. If you lose the friendship, chances are that you might mend it; but you cannot have back a friend who committed suicide.”