Much has been said and written about suicide and its prevalence among the youth, especially in today’s world, when the average tolerance level of not only the youngsters but also the adults has gone down considerably. There are cases in the paper reporting suicide by eleven year olds; suicide by young men or women because their relationship didn’t work out or because they got less marks than expected. The question we have to ask is that can we do anything about it? And the answer is a big YES. Of course, we can.
Before we proceed further, lets’ distinguish between three key terminologies forming the spectrum of suicidal behaviour. A suicide attempt is not the same as committed suicide (or suicide). When we say that so and so person committed suicide, it means the person in question succeeded in killing himself or herself. A suicide attempt is an attempt at taking one’s life but the person is still very much alive and experienced a failed attempt to kill himself. But what comes before attempted suicide and suicide? Suicidal Ideation, that is, thoughts about suicide or the intent of taking one’s life is the first step in a series of emotional and behavioural actions that may mark the onset of suicidal tendencies. Suicidal ideation is the precursor to both, attempted suicide and suicide.
Worldwide, suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 25 yr. olds. It has been reported that every year around 1, 20,000 people commit suicide in India (a statistic which is on the rise); 40 % of this population is under the age of 30 (National Crime Records Bureau). In a cross-sectional study of 5877 individuals between the ages of 15 and 54, Kessler et al. (1999) found that the highest risk per year for the onset of suicidal ideation occurred in the late teenage years and early twenties.
Let’s look at how we can deal with suicidal ideation in our youth.
Some early warning signs suggesting that your child may be harbouring suicidal ideation could be:
- A sudden loss of interest in activities of daily living or activities previously enjoyed, like watching TV, or hanging out with friends;
- Talking about death and worthlessness of life;
- Change in sleeping or eating patterns;
- Sudden anger outbursts or aggressive behaviour;
- Difficulty concentrating on schoolwork or a persistent denial to go to school;
- General lethargy or lack of energy.
Suicidal ideation manifests differently in different individuals. The above listed symptoms are not exhaustive but are meant as a mere example of the range of emotions or behaviours that may get affected due to suicidal thoughts. If you do suspect your teen to be harbouring thoughts of dying or killing self, then following are a few suggestions:
- Ask your child straight away, if they are having suicidal thoughts. It is a common myth that we should never speak about suicide. Someone who has no plans of killing him / herself will not harbour the idea just because you asked about it. In fact, bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly is one of the most helpful ways to deal with it.
- If you are not convinced, even after your teen denies having any suicidal thoughts, you can talk to them about their recent behaviour which may have set you off in the first place and try to find out what is bothering them and see if you can help in any manner.
- No matter what your teen shares with you, you have to offer help and support. A display of rejection from you is only going to push your child further into the abyss consuming their mind.
- Encourage positive life style changes, like healthy diet, sleep, hygiene, etc. It will help if along with your child, you also adopt these changes.
- If you feel, that yes your teen is suicidal, one of the first things to do is make safety plans at home. For e.g., you can suggest a few steps that your teen will have to follow when he / she feels a strong urge to harm themselves. It will also help to remove hazardous substances from home or at least keep them away from your teen’s reach.
- Finally, it is extremely important that you seek out professional help. Visit a mental health professional. These people are trained in dealing with suicidal behaviour and talking to a professional helps and significantly reduces the risk of suicide. There may be other mental health conditions behind the suicidal thoughts, which the professional can help find and treat.
I strongly feel that our focus should be on paying attention and intervening if one of our children has suicidal thoughts (ideation), rather than wait for a failed attempt of suicide to start helping him. Many times, just being there and talking to the person contemplating suicide drastically reduces the risk of an attempt.