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Teen suicide – can it be prevented?




Like most people, when I first started writing about mental-health issues 26 years ago and heard the word “suicide”, I’d picture someone taking their own life because they had such enormous problems there was no other way out. And I’m sure when you hear that someone who appears to have “everything” has taken their own life, your first reaction is to ask why. They had so much to live for – a lovely home, family, money. Sadly those practical elements don’t always play a role in someone who sees suicide as the only way out.

Teen suicide

This week is Prevention of Teen Suicide Week, with the World Health Organization’s latest statistics showing that suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15-19 year olds – a shocking statistic and one that knows no distinction between race, culture, or class. The organisation’s research also shows that globally, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents. The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG), which receives 1 400 calls a day (up from the pre-COVID-19 total of 600 a day) will certainly back these statistics up.

And these days, suicide isn’t just something adults or even teens do. While the numbers of teen suicides are on the rise, so is that of younger children, with SADAG reporting cases from the age of six upwards. Yes, you read that correctly – six years of age. What could possibly make these children and teens do something so desperate, so final?

One in three

This is the number of people who will suffer from mental-health issues in their lifetime. And, after seeing the reactions I got after publishing stories on mental-health issues, I knew it was time to do more, to help break the stigma and get people talking about this vital topic. So last month, my latest book: Surfacing – People Coping with Depression and Mental Illness (Bookstorm) was released featuring 11 people’s stories about depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Many of the brave people who feature in the book talk about how their condition resulted in them coming close to or attempting to take their own life – some while still at school.

Did they come from bad homes? Were they mistreated? Not at all. But ask whether they spoke to anyone, really spoke to their parents, teachers, or friends, and you’ll almost certainly find the answer is no. But the stories aren’t all doom and gloom. The light comes shining through after they find help.

The curse of bullying

A common theme that came out in many stories was school bullying. As Melissa du Preez, who suffers from clinical depression said, “Thank goodness being at school in the 90s meant we could go home and the bullying would stop. I’d hate to be at school today with social media.”

Daryl Brown never fitted in growing up in a small town in the Western Cape as a gay boy, and was constantly bullied, but thought, “It will get better at high school”, but it got worse. “It will get better at varsity”, but it didn’t. Finally a few years ago, he went to London to study further and his depression, which he wasn’t aware he was suffering from, drove him to jump in front of an underground train. He didn’t lose his life, but he lost both legs. It was only in hospital that he saw mental-health professionals for the first time, and discovered there was medication that could take away not just his physical pain, but his mental anguish. Most importantly, he saw a therapist he could open up to about his life. This may seem strange given his disability, but Daryl today, with his mental health under control and friends and family accepting his lifestyle choices, is living his best life ever and is truly happy.

Diane Naidoo wasn’t as lucky as Daryl’s family. Her beautiful 15-year-old daughter, Tenniel, said goodbye to her mom as Diane left home one day to visit family, only to get a call a few hours later telling her that Tenniel was in hospital and she must come back. What she found when she arrived is every parent’s nightmare. Her daughter, the light and love of her life, had hung herself just after Diane left home. There was no note, but learning more since then and realising there were tell-tale signs she could – but was unlikely to – pick up, Diane gives her time freely to talk to school children and parents to create awareness.

Speak and listen to your children

The one message that comes through in all these stories and the calls that SADAG receives, is that the single biggest problem today is communication. From the minute they get in the car or walk in the house, kids are on their electronic devices. That’s their world, and it excludes parents. Meals are rarely eaten around a table where parents can see how their day went and pick up on the often subtle nuances of their kid’s emotional state.

I started to write this book in 2018 – pre-COVID-19 – and since then, there’s not one person who hasn’t been affected in some way by this frightening, still largely unknown virus. People’s livelihoods have been lost and futures feel uncertain. Children are returning to school causing families more distress. But how many people have spoken to a mental-health professional about their anxiety, fear, and worries. Why? Mainly because the words “mental illness” mustn’t be uttered. The stigma of anyone knowing you’re seeing a therapist or worse, that you’re on an antidepressant, is just that – a stigma. One that desperately needs to be broken. Are you shy to tell people you’re diabetic or have a heart condition? No, of course not. They are physical diseases of the body whereas mental illness is a physical disease of the brain – one that can easily be treated. Don’t suffer in silence and above all, watch your children and don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s ok not to be ok.

If you need help, please call the Cipla SADAG 24-hour mental-health helpline on 0800 456 789.

  • Marion Scher is an award-winning journalist, author, and media consultant who for the past 33 years has worked in print and electronic media. Her latest book, ‘Surfacing – People Coping with Depression and Mental Illness’ is available through SADAG and at all good bookstores as well as online through distributors like Amazon and Loot.

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Every doctor’s COVID-19 jab is one step closer to your vaccination



The myalgia I awoke to this morning isn’t unfamiliar to me. It’s the common achy feeling we all experience at the onset of a touch of flu. The mild malaise I’m also feeling, after a shorter night’s sleep, is a physiological effect I try to avoid, but it’s the result of a habit that seems to creep into most of our busy lives.

Perhaps more particular, last night was the close constant attention I paid to my glucose levels as a Type 1 diabetic. Thankfully, all remained normal. Barring my mild symptoms, I’m feeling fantastic this morning, 24 hours after receiving the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine.

My mind drifts back to almost a year ago, when I contracted a simple rhinovirus (the common cold). In spite of experiencing similar symptoms, I would certainly not have described myself as feeling “fantastic” at the time. These same symptoms used to conjure up uneasiness that my family had to bear as part of the role in life I have chosen. That’s what happens when you live with some comorbidities and work in a busy practice that had started to screen its patients vigilantly for the new “Wuhan flu”.

I welcome the vaccine’s side effects as do my colleagues as we enrol this week as the guinea pigs of the Johnson & Johnson trial. This is the only vaccine to date that has shown significant efficacy in preventing severe COVID-19 or death as a result of the 501.V2 variant, the most common strain of COVID-19 in South Africa today.

It’s a single-dose vaccine, with 500 000 doses secured to inoculate healthcare workers over the next four weeks. This is a trial still at stage 3b, which means that it’s not yet registered anywhere in the world for commercial use, in spite of its rolling application in the United States, the United Kingdom, and South Africa.

The vaccine is being rolled out as an emergency measure while it awaits FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approval potentially at the end of this month. Should the vaccine prove to be effective amongst South Africa’s healthcare workers, it will give SAHPRA (the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority) the green light for commercial rollout to our citizens.

My social media feed has been preoccupied with posts by colleagues receiving their vaccines. I, too, have added my own story to this noise. In reality, it’s far from noise. The supportive response we have all received from the public has been overwhelming.

A dear pulmonology colleague and I engaged in conversation yesterday as to whether doctors should be “flaunting their receipt of a vaccine” on social media or rather just quietly receiving the jab under the radar.

After some meaningful thought, we both agreed on the former. The palpable excitement by the public to doctors’ Facebook posts is fuelled by some valuable perspectives which I would like to share with you. These are the reasons that our community members should feel joy that our healthcare workers are finally being vaccinated this week.

The healthcare worker’s safety perspective: during surges of COVID-19 infection, patients have described the thought of not being able to see their doctors, nurses, and paramedics with ease as a terrifying dynamic. Statistics have shown that healthcare workers are three to four times more likely to develop COVID-19 than the general public. As many as 54 685 healthcare workers in the public sector alone have been infected with COVID-19 over the past year, with 779 losing their lives.

Unfortunately, every community doctor knows another doctor who has either contracted a serious COVID-19 infection or even lost their life to this plague. The vaccine offers you the promise that your doctors will be protected and able to help you when you may need them whether for COVID-19 or another reason.

The experimental perspective: the AstraZeneca vaccine taught us that in the dynamic, evolving space of COVID-19, variants affect efficacy tremendously. This phenomenon is so significant, that an already procured vaccine at one million units had to be returned. It’s still unknown whether the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will indeed be effective in large numbers on the ground, beyond the limited sample size of the original study in South Africa.

It’s best to run a live trial on largely healthy healthcare workers. I have my predictions that even with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, modifications will need to be made to the product in the near future. Dr Glenda Gray advised me that a two-dose regimen is also being explored. Other expert vaccinologists have reported that it’s relatively simple to modify vaccines. As a member of the public, you will hopefully have access to the next round of vaccines – the improved version two.

The snowball perspective: this is the mindset that has excited me most since the rollout of vaccines a week ago. Every country with a functional vaccine campaign started off by vaccinating its healthcare workers. They constitute less than 5% of the population. Once healthcare workers start being vaccinated, the rollout soon spreads to essential workers and the elderly and vulnerable. Thereafter, vaccines are offered to younger healthy adults.

There is nothing more my wife and I would like to see than our own parents being vaccinated. I can say the same for my elderly patients. Understanding the procurement plan in South Africa, I’m confident that once the initial snowball of vaccinated healthcare workers has been formed, it’s inevitable that it will grow quickly and our deserving, beloved, vulnerable citizens will be vaccinated soon. Every doctor you see vaccinated means you are one step closer to being vaccinated yourself.

COVID-19 has changed our lives. It continues to place tremendous strain on our community socially, emotionally, financially, and physically. It has been proven that our second-nature, non-pharmacological measures of mask wearing, sanitising, and social distancing are powerful weapons in our armament. These measures dropped COVID-19 cases from a peak of 21 980 a day on 8 January 2021 to 998 today. However, we are finally exploring options of real pharmacological immunity. I’m utterly grateful to be contributing towards the body of knowledge of this development, and I have confidence that as the lightning development of vaccines continues to play out in South Africa, we will slowly get back to normal life.

Dr Daniel Israel is a family practitioner in Johannesburg.

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Tel Aviv rolls out COVID-19 vaccines for illegal foreign nationals



Although South Africa is only starting to vaccinate its healthcare workers, Israel has already vaccinated nearly half the population.

It’s not only Israel’s citizens who have been vaccinated, but also migrant workers living there from the Philippines, Moldova, and Nigeria, as well as Sudanese and Eritrean asylum seekers. They are receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine at the Tel Aviv COVID-19 Vaccination Centre in the southern part of the city, home to a large migrant community.

As part of an initiative to inoculate the city’s foreign nationals, Tel Aviv City Hall and the Sourasky Medical Center started administering vaccines free of charge to the city’s foreign nationals, many of whom are undocumented asylum seekers.

This was evident on Tuesday, 9 February, the first day of the operation, as dozens of asylum seekers and foreign workers in Tel Aviv lined up outside the building to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Posters provided information in English, Tigrinya, Russian, and Arabic.

“I’m very happy,” Indian national Garipelly Srinivas Goud told Associated Press. Lamenting that foreign workers in Israel don’t have money or insurance to afford to pay for the vaccine, Goud, who has been working in Israel for eight years, welcomed the vaccine drive as a “very good decision”.

Although it’s the government’s responsibility to vaccinate everybody within the nation’s borders, Eytan Schwartz, spokesperson for Tel Aviv municipality, said the city would take the next step and start “to vaccinate illegal or undocumented asylum seekers as well”.

And although far from completing the vaccinating of its own population, having thus far delivered more than 4.4 million first doses of the Pfizer vaccine and at least three million second doses, Israel has started providing the Palestinian Authority (PA) with thousands of vaccines for its healthcare workers. This is in spite of the fact that the ultimate responsibility for health services and vaccine acquisition falls upon the PA, elected by Palestinians to govern the West Bank.

After receiving thousands of doses from Israel, the Palestinian Health Ministry administered its first known coronavirus vaccinations at the beginning of February. It announced the start of the campaign by saying that Health Minister Mai al-Kaila had received a first dose along with several frontline medical workers. While acknowledging receipt of 2 000 doses on Monday, 8 February, the first batch of vaccines sent by Israel, the PA didn’t say where they came from.

Back in May 2020, COVID-19 relief aid from the United Arab Emirates was rejected by the Palestinian leadership because it arrived by freight plane to Israel’s international airport without prior co-ordination with the PA. This resulted in 14 tons of urgently needed COVID-19-relief medical supplies languishing at Ben Gurion Airport. The reason for the PA refusing to accept delivery was because it didn’t want to be seen as condoning the normalising of ties between Israel and the Arab world.

Disregarding the health of his people, Osama al-Najjar, the medical services director of the PA health ministry, explained that Ramallah couldn’t “accept shipments that are a gateway to normalisation between Arab countries and Israel”.

Asked what he thought would happen to the medical supplies, al-Najjar responded, “I don’t know where they will go, but we won’t accept them. They’re free to do with them what they please, but we will neither accept them nor welcome them.”

However, Al-Najjar did acknowledge that the PA was “in need of ventilators”.

What we are “all in need of” is better understanding and co-operation as there are no borders when it comes to the health of the planet and its vulnerable citizens. Israeli epidemiologists agree that it’s in Israel’s interest to ensure Palestinians are vaccinated as quickly as possible, as the populations are too intertwined to have one gain herd immunity without the other.

As recently departed Health Ministry Director-General Moshe Bar Siman-Tov told The Times of Israel in January, “The message is very simple: we are one epidemiological unit. As much as we can, we have to help them address this matter.”

  • David E Kaplan is the editor of ‘Lay of the Land’, and executive director of the Global Investigative Journalism Network. This piece was used courtesy of ‘Lay of the Land’.

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Call to wake up and listen



The great Rabbi Yehuda says, “The human soul should turn g-dly … Perceive the world, enjoy the sublime, that sublime light and the hearing of the divine speech.” (Zohar)

How far has humanity travelled away from this truth here in South Africa? The dreaded load shedding, darkness upon the face of the earth … hmmm!

It’s time to take a good look at yourself – no television, no devices – could Hashem be asking you to now look inwards?

Then the virus, resulting in the wearing of masks. How many different masks do we wear for our spouse, children, friends, and co-workers, so full of masks covering up our true self, not hearing the divine voice of Hashem. We are now wearing our mask outside of ourselves. Why? No more space inside, full up, the pretence is overflowing.

Then comes a cry of compassion for humanity – a new rule, masks, social distancing, sanitising, or could we say this, could we look at it like this, expose the truth, give each other space, cleanse soul and mind?

Yet, humanity couldn’t obey this simple law of protection, then came lockdown.

Imprisonment not only of your mind – your body, your whole being, locked up.

And now death, what’s more final on this earth than death? Death, giving up or giving in, surrendering. How to die, why, where do we go, what do we do … well this is for another discussion.

If each of us does our best by being still, listening to the voice of Hashem, doing it through prayer is one way to hear his voice.

We have, as some people call it, collective karma, the law of cause and effect, we also have our own individual karma (attaining good merit or drawing negative energy through our deeds and actions). In collective karma, we are all in the same energy, this is where we see how the innocent and guilty suffer together as a result of a situation.

We can open the door to a new energy, a new way of living, we all have the key in our hand, all you need to do is turn the lock and enter.

Let your fancy dress and mask for your Purim celebration be the last mask you wear.

Pesach is nearly upon us. Think of the slaughtered lamb in place of the first born, allow the angel of death to pass you by, the angel will know death has been, she will see the sign written on the door although it’s the blood of the lamb.

What an auspicious time to play your part to turn your life around! A time in which there are no more masks, the truth can be revealed, the doors open wide, children can laugh and play in the park once more, the light of Shekinah shines brightly in your soul once more.

Let’s pray that through the blessing power of Hashem, the truth will set us free and heal us. It’s time to turn to prayer.

Wishing you a spiritual and enlightening Purim and Pesach!

  • Melanie Moritz is a spiritual teacher and healer.

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