Have social media become a platform for depressed youngsters to post their suicide notes?
Experts are warning concerned family and friends to act immediately if they see distressing suicidal posts – this could save loved ones’ lives.
Last weekend, Free State teenager Bernice Manale, 18, reportedly informed her friends on WhatsApp of her intention to end her life.
The Mangaung Grade 12 pupil sent messages to friends telling them she would “meet them again in heaven”.
Her mom found Bernice in her bedroom the next day – she had hanged herself with a scarf after being dumped by her boyfriend.
Last month, Nokuthula Hlongwane, 21, from Durban, posted pictures on Facebook with the words, “before I go to heaven”, “goodbye world” and “(I) will always be in your lives”.
Some of her friends replied in disbelief and others called her bluff as the post went viral.
But the next day, Hlongwane jumped from the 13th floor of the block of flats where she was living in the city.
The desperate youngster left letters for her family and boyfriend telling them she no longer wanted to be a burden.
Before her death, she had complained of pains in her womb and had indicated in an earlier post on Facebook, saying: “It painful (sic). GOD just take me please.”
Cassey Chambers, operations director of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag), said this week that when people posted messages of helplessness or hopelessness, they were crying out for help.
Friends and family reading the messages should “act immediately”, Chambers said.
“We have known a few cases of people posting a message on their Facebook and Twitter accounts, saying goodbye to their loved ones as part of their suicide note.
“They say things like: ‘There is no point to living any more’, ‘I don’t want to go on any more’ or ‘I wish I could sleep forever’.
“Don’t just like or comment on the post, act immediately. Take every mention or threat of suicide seriously.
“Pick up the phone, go to their home, phone a friend to get to their house…
“Try to speak to them immediately and ask what’s wrong,” says Chambers.
Pauline Mawson, a clinical psychologist, says there is no research to suggest suicide announcements on social media are becoming a trend.
“Social media is increasingly becoming a more common form of communication and a platform for individuals, groups to express their opinions, feelings and thoughts which they may previously never have voiced,” says Mawson.
“Young people faced unemployment, crime, pressure to perform well at school, poor interpersonal relationships and poor family relationships ‘due to social media’,” she says.
“As a society, we need to foster empathy as well as psycho-education around suicide and the associated mental illnesses.”
Statistics show there are 23 suicides and a further 230 attempted suicides daily in the country.