Suicide: Threat to Youth
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers and young adults after the number of deaths due to motor vehicles.
Teenage years represent an anxious and unsettling period for boys and girls as they face the difficulties of transition into adulthood. It is a period in life that is often confusing, leaving teens feeling isolated from family or peers. Self-doubts, confusions, and pressures to succeed or conform come at a high price for the adolescents. Unfortunately, at one point or another, they perceive suicide as a permanent answer to problems which are more often just temporary. Especially girls end up attempting suicide more often than boys.
It is important to remember that suicidal thoughts and behaviours are not the natural consequence of life stresses. People dead by suicide were suffering from a mental illness at that time. The most commonly reported mental cause for suicide is depression. Impulsivity and substance use, including alcohol and drugs, also elevate the risk of suicide. People who experience a stressful life event may feel intense sadness or loss, anxiety, anger, or hopelessness, and may occasionally end up having the thought that they would be better off dead. Depression and suicide often coincide. Yet not everyone who is depressed attempts suicide and not everyone who attempts suicide is depressed.
If you’re a parent, a teacher, or anyone who spends time with children and teens, it’s important to learn the warning signs.
Warning signs and risk factors:
The primary symptom of suicide is talking usually about suicide and doing self-harm. If any child expresses suicidal tendencies or exhibits self-harming behaviours, immediate professional help must be sought.
There are many warning signs and risk factors associated with suicide. The list below is not exhaustive but provides insight into the factors which might elevate a person’s probability of attempting suicide. This does not mean that if your child or adolescent has some of these risk factors, then s/he will automatically take his/her own life. Here, many factors combine leading to a suicidal crisis and may include some of those that are listed below.
• Mental illness/psychiatric diagnosis
• A family history of suicide and/or exposure to suicide Family history of mental illness
• Physical/sexual abuse/ medical problem. For example, patients undergoing dialysis for the end-stage renal disease have a higher rate of suicide than that of the general population.
• Loss of any close one
• Aggressive behaviour/impulsivity
• Lack of social support/social isolation
• Poor coping skills
• Easy access to the ways of harming oneself, like guns, knives, etc. A number of factors may influence an individual’s decision regarding method in a suicide act, but there is substantial support that easy access influences the choice of method.
• Difficulties in dealing with sexual orientation
• Prolonged physical illness
• Family disruptions (divorce or problems with the law)
• Traumatic event
• Preoccupation with death (e.g., recurring themes of death or self-destruction in artwork or written assignments
• Intense sadness and/or hopelessness
• Not caring about activities that used to matter
• Social withdrawal from family, friends, sports, social activities
• Substance abuse
• Sleep disturbance (either not sleeping or staying awake all night)
• Giving away possessions
• Risk-taking behaviour
• Lack of energy
• Inability to think clearly/concentration problems
• Declining school performance/increased absences from school
• Increased irritability
• Abnormal changes in appetite
How can you prevent suicide?
You can prevent suicide by being on the lookout for the warning signs mentioned above. You can also prevent suicide by collecting information about it. Studies show that people do not start thinking about suicide just because someone asks them about it. If you suspect your child or adolescent is suicidal, tell them that you are worried and want to help them. Sometimes children or adolescents who are thinking about suicide won’t tell you because they are worried about how you will react. Your direct, non-judgmental questions can encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings with you. Regardless of their response, if you suspect that the person may be suicidal, get them to help immediately.
These steps can help:
• Express your concern: It’s a myth that if you mention suicide, you might plant the idea. By honestly and openly expressing your concerns, you’ll send an important message that you care and understand.
• Really listen: Parents can be tempted to shut down an upsetting conversation by saying, “I don’t want to hear those things,” or “I had a hard time as a teen, but I got over it.” Instead, say, “Tell me more about how you’re feeling.” Then listen.
• Maintain Connection: You might want to safeguard a child or teen by keeping him home in a protective cocoon, but isolation can increase the risk of suicidal behaviours. Help a struggling child maintain connections with friends and loved ones. As a parent, spend extra time with your child. Even watching TV or playing video games together sends a signal that you’re there.
• Be compassionate: Express your love for the child or teen. Tell her you can understand her pain, that it can get better, that you will make sure she gets help and will support her every step of the way.
• Trust your judgment: If a young person denies that he is having suicidal thoughts, but you doubt his honesty, trust your intuition. Take further steps to ensure his or her safety.
• Prioritize safety: Remove weapons from the house, make sure the child or teen is not left alone and consult a mental health professional right away.
Some parents may find that their adolescent child resists their advances and isn't willing to confide in them. When teens insist their parents just "don't understand," it might be a good idea to suggest that they talk to a more objective or emotionally neutral person. This can include other family members, religious leaders, a school counsellor, a coach, or a trusted doctor or psychologist.
It is very important to seek professional help for the adolescent who may be suicidal. Guidance counsellors at schools or clinical psychologist at the hospital can help ensure that a distressed teen receives the needed assistance.
As the vast majority of adolescents who commit suicide had depressive symptoms, recognition and evaluation of clinical depression as a treatable medical condition is essential. Psychologists and psychiatrists, provide both one-on-one counselling and medical treatment for the biochemical causes of depression respectively.
Short-term and long-term care can minimize the risk of committing suicide and help people find alternative solutions to coping with extreme distress.
Psychological counselling helps to develop effective mechanisms for coping with problems. These counselling sessions stay valuable even long after the adolescent period has ended and also when a person has to encounter stress during adulthood.