The number of attempted suicides among students in Johannesburg is “alarming”, according to retired emergency ward nurse, Shaida Khan.

The Wits community has suffered a number of suicides in recent years. This year, two students and a lecturer committed suicide. In 2010, two students took their lives and in 2009 a student attempted suicide by jumping off the Wits Amic deck.

“Some of the attempts I have seen over the years, have included overdosing on painkillers, sleeping tablets and slit wrists,” said Khan. The reasons these students had given had included unwanted pregnancies and failing a course.

According to research conducted by psychologist Prof Lourens Schlebusch, South Africa has one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world. According to a study published by Health24, methods used by students and youth when attempting suicide included hanging, shooting or poisoning themselves, or overdosing on painkillers.

An honours student who asked not to be named told Vuvuzela he attempted suicide in 2010 by overdosing on a common painkiller. He said he had been putting on an act for family and friends to hide his pain.

“I couldn’t act anymore. The pressure of my Wits workload and my family troubles got to me and I thought, if I killed myself now, tomorrow this pain and troubles will be gone.”

After he was rushed to hospital, emergency ward nurses strapped him down and forced feed a charcoal based mixture. “The mixture was meant to absorb the remaining toxins in my body. I was then forced to stay at a nearby hospital for three weeks where I attended therapy sessions.”

Psychologist from the Careers Counselling and Development Unit (CCDU) Shameen Naidu said individuals who were in emotional distress behaved differently. “There are numerous signs of distress, ranging from withdrawal from peers, avoidance of lectures and poor performance. Individuals also become more anxious.”

These signs stemmed from broader problems such as a work overload, fear of failing, relationship fights and not receiving support. “We are all susceptible to emotional distress. How we cope with it depends on our own coping styles,” she said.

Both Prof Schlebusch and Naidu agreed that it was essential to get the necessary help. The CCDU has a team of eleven therapists, who include psychologists, social workers and interns.

An annual workshop is held by the unit for lecturers and support staff to be made of aware of the signs of emotional distress and how to help those going through emotional troubles.

“Some of the attempts I have seen over the years included overdosing on painkillers, sleeping tablets and slit wrists,” said Khan.


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