According to the World Health Organisation, 800 000 people around the world lose their lives to suicide annually, with suicide being the third most common cause of death in teenagers between the ages of 15 to 19 years old. In South Africa, teens are the most at-risk group for suicide. Since the beginning of this year, more than 40 young children in Gauteng have died by suicide, with additional stats showing that 17,8% of South African teenagers have attempted suicide this year alone. With Matric finals on the way, now is one of the most stressful times for our children, and teen suicide is a devastating crisis that reflects the stress that teenagers are experiencing.
“This year we have treated far too many families who have lost a loved one to suicide, and a handful of failed suicide attempt clients,” says Kerry Rudman from Brain Harmonics, a Neurofeedback organisation specialising in retraining brains. “The number of clients that we are seeing post covid who are experiencing depression and anxiety has risen substantially and more alarmingly, the significant increase of suicidal kids and teenagers is of grave concern. Many of the teenagers that we are helping find it very difficult to express their feelings and emotions to their parents, which makes neurofeedback a great alternative as they don’t have to talk about what they are experiencing when we rebalance their brains.”
Mental Health is not just a term that is simply thrown around as the latest trend – it is a very real phenomenon. In the 15 – 24 age group, suicide is the second leading and fastest growing cause of death in South Africa. If we think of the brain as an energy economy, it becomes easier to understand the devastating impact that continual stress and anxiety have on not only the brain, but the body as a whole.
‘’Tens of billions of your brain cells transform oxygen and glucose from your blood into pulses of electricity up to 40 times each second. Your brain, which is less than 5% of your weight, uses 25% of the oxygen and nearly 50% of the blood sugar in your whole body,’’ explains Rudman. “This, one of the most complex systems in the whole universe that you carry on your shoulders day in and day out, is a glutton for energy. It’s no surprise that the most effective brains studied are the ones which don’t waste energy.’’
In order to help your brain perform at its best, reducing the stress response is a good place to start. Few activities are as costly, and energy consuming, as shifting into the fight or flight crisis mode. While some people are able only to shift into fight or flight when a real threat occurs, for many others their brains remain in a constant state of fight or flight due to multiple perceived stressors – i.e. those things they are not able to control.
“Stress is an internal response to things we are not able to control, for whatever reason,” says Rudman. “Those people who are constantly in a stressed state are said to be struggling with anxiety. Unlike a healthy stress response, anxiety makes the brain less able to respond to danger or to perform ordinary functions. Resources meant to maintain your brain and body are all off at war fighting multiple fronts against unknown enemies, leaving your brain burnt out and unable to supply your body with the energy it requires to live. This is when depression can set in. Depression then leads to feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and racing minds (to mention a few), which then also severely affect your quality of sleep, leading to further exhaustion and anxiety!”
Some warning signs to look out for in teens who are possibly contemplating suicide are:
- Changes in eating and sleeping habits
- Loss of interest in usual activities
- Withdrawal from friends and family members
- Acting out behaviours and running away
- Alcohol and drug use
- Neglecting personal appearance
- Unnecessary risk taking
- Obsession with death and dying
Neurofeedback is unlike other forms of therapy (such as medication or talk therapy) in that sessions allow the brain to discover new pathways and more efficient ways of working to regulate the body and mind back into harmony. The client does not have to relive the traumas or emotions that they have experienced, or struggle with the complicated side effects from various medications.
Our Youth need us now more than ever before.