oa South African Family Practice - Associations between family suicide and personal suicidal behaviour among youth in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa : original research
Background : For every suicide, a minimum of six people are affected. Given the increasing number of suicide deaths in South Africa, the associations between the suicide of a family member and personal suicidal behaviour were explored in grade 8 students.
Method : Grade 8 students were asked to participate with parental consent and child assent. Demographic questionnaires were completed and formal psychometric assessment instruments were used.
Results : Thirty-five (15.98%) students reported knowing that a family member had committed suicide. The mean age was 13.3 years (range 13-15 years). There were significant associations between family suicide and students' self-reported involvement in physical fights, use of alcohol and concerns about physical health. Family suicide was associated with personal suicidal ideation, suicidal plans and suicide attempts. Higher scores were reported on the scales assessing depression, perceived stress and feelings of hopelessness by those having had a family member commit suicide. There were low scores for having a sense of mastery, self-esteem and perceived social support among those who had experienced a family member commit suicide.
Conclusion : Significant associations were found between the suicide of a family member and personal suicidal behaviour among the participants. There appear to be negative associations at a psychological level for the youth in a family in which a family member has committed suicide. Family practitioners play an important role in the identification and management of suicidal behaviour. While there are organisations in South Africa that offer help to the family and friends of those who have committed suicide, specific programmes directed towards child/adolescent survivors appear to be limited, and this needs to be addressed. The limitations of the study are discussed.
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