High risk of suicide among high-school learners in uMgungundlovu District, KwaZulu-Natal Province, South Africa

  • N Khuzwayo
  • M Taylor
  • C Connolly


Background. Worldwide, suicide affects the most vulnerable populations, including adolescents and young adults. It is estimated that suicide will contribute more than 2% to the global burden of disease by 2020. Information about the prevalence of suicidal behaviour and the sociodemographic characteristics and risk factors associated with suicide in the South African (SA) rural context is important for local and national policy and contributes to global understanding of the phenomenon.

Objective. To investigate key demographic factors and behaviours associated with planning and attempting suicide among high-school learners.

Methods. In a cross-sectional study, we used stratified random sampling to select 16 schools in uMgungundlovu District, KwaZulu-Natal Province, SA. All grade 10 learners (N=1 759) at these schools completed a self-administered questionnaire (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System). Data analysis was carried out with Stata 13 statistical software using generalised estimating equations.

Results. In total, 222 learners (12.6% of the 1 759) had made plans to attempt suicide during the previous 12 months, 261 (14.8%) had actually attempted suicide, and 218 attempts had resulted in the learner being treated by a doctor or nurse (12.4%). The risk of planning suicide increased with age. For male learners, being threatened with a weapon on school property (adjusted odds ratio (AOR) 3.7, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.9 - 7.1; p<0.01) or bullied through Facebook or WhatsApp (AOR 3.1, 95% CI 1.5 - 7.1; p<0.01) significantly increased the likelihood of making a suicide attempt that resulted in treatment by a doctor or nurse. For female learners, engaging in risk behaviours increased this likelihood, risk factors including being physically hurt by someone they were dating (1 - 3 times AOR 3.3, 95% CI 1.9 - 5.7; p<0.01, ≥4 times AOR 10.0, 95% CI 2.5 - 40.2 (p<0.01) and number of drinks consumed in the past month (AOR 2.0, 95% CI 1.4 - 3.0; p<0.01).

Conclusions. The prevalence of suicide attempts among these SA learners was high and was influenced by multiple factors. Routine surveillance systems are urgently required to develop context-based interventions for male and female learners at uMgungundlovu District rural high schools.


Journal Identifiers

eISSN: 0256-95749
print ISSN: 2078-5135