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Cyber-bullying a major cause of depression: SADAG

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A recent case of cyber-bullying has led a 13-year-old student to take her own life, putting the spotlight on the consequences of this increasing trend.  The parents of the Grade 7 pupil at Doornpoort Primary School in Pretoria found her body in her bedroom on Monday.

According to Sinoville Crisis Centre, which deals with matters affecting young children and teenagers, a friend of the young girl had distributed an image of her among pupils on various WhatsApp groups.  It is believed that the deceased was criticized and mocked about her physical appearance, which left her humiliated and instilled a fear of going back to school.

South African Depression and Anxiety group’s (SADAG) spokesperson Cassey Chambers said the incident highlights the huge impact that social media and cyber bullying has on young children. Chambers attributed the increase to children having greater access to the internet, noting that the children are getting younger and younger.

The SADAG spokesperson emphasized that any kind of bullying should be taken seriously as it has an immense impact on the victim’s self-esteem, confidence and mental health. She noted that, in comparison to physical bullying that used to be prevalent, bullying that takes place on social media has a greater impact as it is there every day and can become viral if it is shared.

Chambers said parents need to play an active role in assisting children to navigate social media and monitor the child’s access. Parents should advise children on how to be safe and what to look out for.

“As (parents) we really need to get involved and find out what our children are spending their time on social media doing- what platforms are they on, what are people talking about. In that way you are (more) able to pick up if there are any issues or (find out) what is going on.”

She went on to say that children, even at primary school, are not immune to cyber bullying.

“When we look at the fact that the youngest case (of suicide as a result of cyber bullying) is 6-years-old, we have to realize that children and teenagers are at risk and it’s important to get help as soon as possible.”

Chambers noted that more cases of cyber bullying have been reported and more children are identifying cyber bullying as the cause or one of the contributing factors to their depression.

Chambers also pointed out that it is important for schools to be accountable and have mechanisms in place to deal with this kind of bullying, immediately. This applies, Chambers explained, to both the victim of bullying and the perpetrator- to stop it from spreading or from further humiliation happening. It is also important, Chambers said, to advise against “the bystander effect” where something inappropriate is seen but left unreported.

Adolescents are at a higher risk of suicide as they act more impulsively whereas adults would have a lot more to consider before it becomes an option. Therefore, it is important for adults to take the signs seriously.

Some warning signs include:

  • Speaking about death. Hearing the child say things like “I don’t want to live anymore” or “I’d be better off if I was dead” etc.
  • Writing suicide notes or goodbye messages
  • Symptoms of depression
  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in sleeping patterns
  • Hopelessness,
  • Agitation
  • Giving away of prized possessions
  • Or a recent trauma or life changing event

According to SADAG, 75% of people who commit suicide tell someone first or give a few warning signs.

“It’s really important for all parents to have direct conversations with their children and take them seriously. So, it’s important for parents, teachers and friends to know these warning signs and get help before it’s too late.”

Chambers urged anyone who knows someone that may be suicidal or that is simply suffering from depression, to get help as soon as possible.

“Don’t wait until there is a crisis. Start the conversation today. Get help before it’s too late. If they don’t want to talk to you as a parent, get them to speak to someone.”

For assistance, contact SADAG on 0800 456 789 .

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