“Can’t believe that she is no more…!”

Depressed girl leaning against a wall and covering her face
Photo: © Tinnakorn Jorruang / 123RF Stock Photo

Recently, I heard friends and dear ones of a youngster who ended her life in a jiffy say: “Can’t imagine that she has done this; she was everything to us, and was everywhere, was so smart …”

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers. Suicide in teens is a serious and growing problem. The National Crime Records Bureau reports a student suicide every hour in India. In most cases, youngsters between the ages of 14-30 years commit suicide. There are various issues that teens are grappling with: peer pressure, emotionally turbulent and stressful years of life, issues related to their very personality: self-esteem, lack of confidence, loneliness, feeling of not fitting in anywhere, depression, etc., can lead one to commit suicide. There are other risk factors such as childhood abuse, traumatic experiences, lack of reference points, non-friendly home, social or school environment, and familiarity with others who often speak about teen suicides.

These facts made me reflect deeply on the ever-increasing number of suicides. What preventive measures do we need to take to reduce the alarming rate of suicides? In the field of education and especially with regard to value education and personality development what more can we do? I put these questions to some of the scholars that I know. This is what they had to say:

Prof. Shazia Kardar, King Khalid University, Department of English writes: “Students usually don’t understand that suicide means self-defeat. Different issues trigger negative thoughts in their minds. In school classes to boost self-esteem, stressing the value of life and the reason for life, etc., should be introduced. Effective life skills also need to be taught. The students should also be encouraged to open up about any problems they are experiencing.”

Prof. Antony Kannanayakkal Joseph, Cultural Anthropology and Theology, says: “One of the possible reasons that leads a person to suicide would be running out of alternatives or options. Not that options are not available but the capacity or skills of identifying alternatives are not developed. A world which rejects a loser, conducts elimination rounds to select the fittest is another cause. Training to reject such mentality, withstand peer pressures which promote competition, ability to design one’s own standards, and methods of life’s goals are also critical.”

Prof. Henry Olders, Psychiatry & Computer Engineering, says: “An important contribution to increasing suicide rates is that more and more people are being prescribed anti-depressants which can trigger violence, including suicidal and homicidal behaviour. Here is a section of an essay I wrote on anger and violent behavior (https://henry.olders.ca/wordpress/?p=1404).”

Prof. Vasil Grigoriev noted: “Suicide is a consequence of depression. The cause of depression is a disorder of physiological processes in the body, and is caused by improper functioning of the human body which leads to stress and punishment by the brain’s punishment system.”

Prof. Preeti Oza affirms: “Students today are the victims of over expectations. Moreover, educationists have failed to accept our students in complete totality. We have burdened them with our own anxieties and this burden becomes too much for young minds. Parents, teachers, and society have a collective responsibility to accept our students as they are.”

World Suicide Prevention Day

To create greater awareness of suicide and risk factors associated with it, September 10, every year, is observed as World Suicide Prevention Day in partnership with the International Association for Suicide Prevention and the World Health Organization. Attending two seminars organized in Maharashtra to mark this day for two consecutive years helped me to understand the pain and sorrow of those who lost their dear ones due to suicide.

Suicide is intentionally taking one’s own life, and it comes from the Latin word suicidium, which literally means “to kill oneself”. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death globally. There are myths and facts around suicides. One such myth is: “People who talk about suicide really won’t do it.” The fact is: Nearly everyone who attempts suicide has given some warning or sign!

Recognize the warning signs

Among the strong warning signals from teens who are pondering suicide are: drastic change in eating and sleeping habits, withdrawals, aggressive behaviour, escaping, drug and alcohol, indifference to personal appearance, drop in the quality of performance in school/college, tiredness, complaints about pains, no to praise or rewards. Be alert and act up on even indirect references to death or suicide. Expressions like: “Mom, you’ll be sorry when I am gone”, “There seems to be no way out,” etc., are packed with suicidal feelings.

Feelings of “I am good for nothing”, hopelessness, considering self as a burden; talking about death or suicide, sharing possessions, lack of interest in activities, high mood swings, etc., calls you to intervene. Speaking frankly and honestly about suicidal thoughts and feelings can help to save a life.

A loving dialogue

Various authors have shared their insights on how to talk to a teenager threatening suicide. Enter into a dialogue. Dialogue accompanied by prudence and discretion; listening with empathy, stepping in with apt questions: “Can you talk to me what is going on within you?” Gently ask: “Is there any specific event that pushed you to suicidal thoughts?” Do not enter into a lecture or a reactive mode. Keep off judgement and try not to disagree with their feelings.

You are initiating a new dialogue, your task is to search together for alternatives: no to suicide and yes to life. How and when? As quick as possible; suicide is never a solution. Play for them a tape of affirmation and love; suggest alternative options that will promote life. Ensure that you are there to stand by, that they can trust you.

Isolation and inability to form relationships were identified as important factors in suicidal attempts. Identifying the risk factors and recognizing the warning signs can help to prevent suicide. We need a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention: a blend of efforts that work together to address various aspects of the problem, endorsement of wellness, and mental health.

Experts are teaming up to reflect together how best to support teens in an increasingly digital world. Research efforts are already moving in this direction with focus on Teens, Tech and Mental Health. “Preventing suicide: A global imperative” is the first WHO report of its kind. A strong network among countries to develop/strengthen comprehensive suicide prevention strategies is the need of the hour. Together, teens, educators, and parents, we can do much to prevent suicide to save a life.

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Dr Teresa Joseph

Dr Teresa Joseph

Dr Teresa Joseph, FMA, is a Salesian Sister who holds a Master’s degree in Science of Education. She has authored several books including Dream Big, Dream True and Teachers Are Like Stars published by Better Yourself Books.