Almost every year, I observe adolescents who struggled with trauma and anxiety due to social and academic pressures. The most common among all is the suicidal thoughts that are now becoming more common nowadays among teens. Last year alone, two of my previous students attempted suicide; luckily, they both survived. The underlying reasons behind these disturbing behaviours are more or less same, i.e. anxiety, peer or academic pressure etc. Family involvement and social support might help affected teens to recover from their depression, but the road to recovery can be rocky, and therefore, most of the time, adolescents find it hard to recover from their traumatic past. The question is Why the teen’s suicidal rate astonishingly increased since the past decade?
According to Anderson (2002), ‘Suicide’ is the third leading cause of death among adolescents (13 to 19 years). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) report published in 2012, the estimated rate of suicide, in Pakistan alone, among teens was average 7.5 per 100,000 individuals. However, the rate of suicides in Pakistan is low as compared to other developed countries like USA where, according to the survey conducted in 2006 by DOH, 11% of eighth-graders had considered attempting suicide in the prior twelve months.
Among numerous causes of teens suicides, the most common mental illness is depression and anxiety, especially among teenagers age between 12 to 19. It is important to remember that suicidal thoughts and behaviours are not the natural consequence of serious life stresses. People who experience a stressful life event may feel intense sadness or loss, anxiety, anger, or hopelessness, and may occasionally have the thought that they would be better off dead. Similarly, teens sometimes feel lost or dishearten when they first experience failures in their lives or been judged by the loved ones (parents or friends) that eventually hurt their self-ego (Previous Article: How Traumatic Childhood Affects Adulthood?).
What are the Warning signals for suicides
There are many warning signs and risk factors for suicide. Such as (Source: Children Hospital)
- Preoccupation with death (e.g., recurring themes of death or self-destruction in artwork or written assignments
- Intense sadness and 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
- Risky behaviour
- Lack of energy
- Inability to think clearly/concentration problems
- Declining school performance/increased absences from school
- Increased irritability
- Changes in appetite
However, one should know that the above list is only intended to provide insight into what factors might elevate a child or adolescent’s level of suicide risk. This does not mean that if your child or adolescent has some of these risk factors, then he/she will automatically take his/her own life.
How can you see that your child is suicidal?
You may start counselling your child by asking if he or she is thinking about suicide or having such thoughts. Be sure to ask them in clear, straightforward language like, ‘I am worried about you. Have you been having thoughts about wanting to die or killing yourself?’ People who attempt or complete suicide often exhibit several warning signs, either through what they say or by what they do. The more warning signs a teenager exhibits, the higher the risk of completing suicide. If you think your child might be at risk for suicide, you should have him/her evaluated by your primary care physician, your child’s therapist or psychiatrist or visit the closest emergency department.
How to Prevent Teens Suicides
There are many ways through which educators and parent can prevent suicides among teens. However, the most workable method is to communicate with your child. Study shows that the majority of teens think about suicide when they already decided that nobody would understand their feelings or problems they are having. And in that ‘Nobody’ their loved ones come in the top of the list. Have a routine conversation with your child, ask them about their daily activities, let them have confided to you whatever puzzling their minds. Remember, the very first line of defence in the whole world for a suicidal teenager is always you – Parents, and when they lost this first line of protection, they start searching other defences in the form of substance abuse, wrong social gatherings and adopting other abusive methods.
As for teenagers, it is important to familiarise themselves with the reality of life and reality is bitter than what we aspire or expect from our lives. The only solution to convert that bitterness into sweetness is to face the problems rather to runaway from it. Suicide means ‘you quit’ which simply shows your problems are way stronger than you – You, who is the mightiest of all beings on earth. Always remember, God always provides solutions with every problem; you just need to do a little extra hard work to find that solution 😊.
Change is good. Without it, life can get a little mundane. So, try something new! Embrace challenges! I once again reiterate that dialogue from my favourite cartoon-movie ‘The Lion King’:
“The past can hurt. But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it.”