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Posted at: Sep 21, 2019, 2:23 AM; last updated: Sep 21, 2019, 2:23 AM (IST)

Make your teen’s troubles tiny

As suicides among adolescents increase, it’s imperative to provide them with safe spaces both at home and outside
Make your teen’s troubles tiny

Dr Samir Parikh

Suicide has become a global phenomenon. In fact, in 2012 it was listed as the second leading cause of death among people in the age bracket of 15 to 29 years globally, according to WHO. 

In India, too, a growing number of young people are taking their own lives. According to census data released in February 2016, suicide is the leading cause of death among people aged 15 to 29. The number is rising since 2004-06. From 15.8 per cent it increased to 18 per cent in 2010-13. The data also shows that at nearly 19 per cent the number of suicides among young people is higher in rural areas as compared to urban areas (14.7 per cent). Suicide is the second biggest killer in this age group, after road accidents (15.3 per cent).

These scary numbers show that suicidal tendencies are a growing reality of our society across all sections of the population, regardless of age, gender, economic strata or any other demographic section. 

Some of the contributing factors may include the transitions in our societal structure over the recent years. There is a marked reduction in social support. Family size is shrinking and social interaction is decreasing. After the invasion of the social media, virtual interaction has overpowered the actual and social identities of individuals, especially teenagers. A young mind may find it difficult to differentiate between real and virtual world, giving rise to mental conflict.

Family and peer support

Working towards suicide prevention requires us all to recognise that suicides are and can be prevented. As a parent and a responsible adult, one of the most important things to keep in mind is suspicious behaviour or sudden change in personality. These observations can make people empowered to identify teenagers who might be at risk. Furthermore, it is also important for them to be confident of knowing how to react and deal with such adolescents. Besides parents and family members, teachers, other front-line workers need to be made aware of these warning signs.

Within schools and colleges, imparting active social and life skills training is a major step that can help children and adolescents develop healthier coping mechanisms to deal with their internal conflicts. These policies may be helpful for teenagers to learn coping skills. Efforts should be made to create such an environment so that the students feel safe to express themselves, and reach out for help, without feeling stigmatised. They should feel encouraged in sharing their innermost feelings easily and not be judged. Senior students can be roped in to form support groups.

Counselling is crucial

Considering the mindset of an individual who is feeling suicidal, where the individual is typically seeking support and validation, and is relying on suicide as a last resort, reaching out to a mental health expert or a counsellor at the time of a crisis can be extremely crucial and helpful. In fact, such a positive support at the right time can actually give a ray of hope to a suicidal individual. It can help them reconsider their options, re-evaluate, and end up learning more adaptive coping mechanisms to deal with their stressors.

Society’s role

As a society, it is important for us to recognise the importance of establishing an adequate peer support and social network system, family support, school as well as community connectedness, as these could serve as a major factors in lessening the risk of suicides. In fact, it is our societal responsibility to encourage talking about our mental health, creating not just awareness, but also a sensitivity around mental illnesses, so that more and more people are able to reach out for help, and enable an earliest intervention. 

This is our joint responsibility, as responsible adults, front-line workers and others in schools, colleges, playgrounds and parks, or any other public area as well, not to forget the role of the media as well as role models to help sustain these efforts. All our efforts need to be directed towards creating a robust national suicide prevention policy, which can make the vision of preventing suicides a reality.

— The writer is Director, Department of Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences Fortis Healthcare, Gurugram.

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Be there

Be calm, and provide your support by being there for the person

Help build a strong support system

Listen

Be empathetic

Be vigilant

Encourage help-seeking behaviour

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Warning signs

- Sudden or unexplained changes in mood

- Giving away of personal belongings or possessions 

- Social isolation from friends, family members, etc.

-  Indulging in excessive risk-taking behaviour like reckless driving, increased alcohol or drug-use, etc.

-  Sudden fascination with death/suicide-related websites, songs, movies or literature

-  Being on the lookout for lethal, poisonous or sharp-pointed objects like knives, ropes, pills etc. 

-  Feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, anxiety, anger or even revenge 

-  A sense of purposelessness in life

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