Adolescence is a critical transitional phase in human development that comes with a diverse set of challenges. To some adolescents, these transitions may come relatively easily, but for many this may not be the case. It is common in a country like India for adolescents to have ‘adult’ responsibilities (such as working, marriage, child-bearing and rearing), adolescents usually lack the resources to successfully negotiate these challenges. These can put an undue amount of distress on young minds and many consider ending their lives in an effort to end the unbearable distress. The National Crime Records Bureau data on suicides in India in the year 2014 indicates that youth including adolescence constituted 34.1% of the total suicides in India. However, there is no single reason responsible for this alarming statistic. Literature suggests that pressure of educational achievement, family history of suicide, separation, divorce, or death of parent/s, sexual orientation, observing suicidal behavior among peers, bullying, sexual abuse, emotional neglect, depression, lack of social support, substance abuse, relationship loss, socioeconomic factors, access to lethal means etc. are some of the factors that lead to teenage suicide (Hawton et al, 2012; Bridge et al, 2006; Hagen and Rasell, 2016).
Tackling the Problem
Identifying the signs
People experiencing suicidal ideation may exhibit signs of their distress. Identifying these signs in time can help family members provide the immediate care and support they need to feel better.
Some warning signs could include:
- Making a suicide attempt or gesture.
- Discussing or threatening suicide. Saying things like: “I’m going to kill myself,” “I wish I were dead,” or “I shouldn’t have been born”
- Sharing any specific plan to end own life.
- Been preoccupied with death.
- Dramatic mood changes
- Showing signs of self- harm or intentional self-poisoning or self -injury, irrespective of the type of motive or the extent of suicidal intent (Hawton et al, 2012). Some signs include wearing bandages, avoiding sports or dresses that require less body coverage, gathering razor, blades or other tools usually used in cutting etc.
- Drastic changes in eating and sleeping patterns
- Making statements about hopelessness, helplessness, worthlessness, or being “beyond help”
- Giving away favorite possessions to others
- Giving verbal hints with statements such as: “I won’t be a problem for you much longer,” “Nothing matters,” “It’s no use”, and “I won’t see you again”
- Writing letters with last wishes to the close ones
- Becoming suddenly cheerful after a period of depression that may mean that the teenager has already made the decision to escape all problems by ending his/her life
- Difficulty concentrating and a decline in quality of school work
- History of substance abuse (especially with co-morbid mental illness)
- Previous suicide attempts
- History of physical and sexual abuse
- Life stressors such as interpersonal losses (relationship, social, work) and legal or disciplinary problems
- Possession of or access to firearms or other means
Role of the Family
The family is the most important support system any adolescent relies on. Lack of support from the family can leave an adolescent feeling frustrated, helpless and alone. Here are some ways in which you can ensure that your child feels supported and understood
- Encourage open communication among family members including children
- Trying not to involve the adolescent in resolving conflicts in the marital/intimate relationship
- Listening to children in distress, with a non-judgmental and empathetic mindset
- Not blaming the adolescents in front of the others or comparing him with other peers
- Giving space, being patient and accepting rather than confrontational if the teen displays self-harming behaviors
The Role of Mental Health Professionals
Getting support from a person who is outside of their immediate environment often helps teen’s disclose sensitive information which they cannot share with their parents. By providing a supportive environment and a non- judgmental safe place, a counselor can help assist at-risk teenagers find ways to deal with their distress. A very important part of the counseling process is the maintenance of confidentiality which can help teenagers build trust and to share their innermost feelings without fear.
At iCALL, we provide this supportive and caring environment over telephone- and email-based counseling services. Our telephone based service can be a great help in accessing immediate support during times of high vulnerability, while our email-based service can help for those who need more time to think and reflect over what they wish to put forth to the counselor. The trained and qualified team of counselors at iCALL is here to support you in any way that you feel comfortable. Reach out to us between Monday to Saturday 8 AM to 10 PM. A phone call/ email may just be the first step towards progress and growth.
Bridge. A. J, Goldstein. R. T., and Brent. A. D. (2006). Adolescent suicide and suicidal behavior. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. Vol. 3(47), pp. 372–394. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7610.2006.01615.x.
Hawton. K. , Saunders. E. A. K. , and O’Connor. C. R. (2012). Self-harm and suicide in adolescents. Centre for Suicide Research. Department of Psychiatry, University of Oxford.
Hagen. N. and Russell. P. A. (2016). Student Suicides: A Tragic Silent Issue and Potential Solutions. doi:10.15354/si.16.re202.
Accidental Deaths and Suicides in India 2014. (n.d.). Retrieved September 10, 2016, from http://www.ncrb.gov.in/