How Do I Know if My Child is Suicidal?
Is your child withdrawing herself from friends and family? Is she obsessed with a gadget? Watch out, for these changes could be indicative of something as grave as suicidal thoughts in her.
By Amrita Gracias
Let’s admit it. We all do feel depressed at certain stressful times in our life - those low, sad feelings after a major disappointment, a failed test or a broken relationship. The feelings last a few days and then go away, usually after talking to a friend. We begin to feel better again. The reasons for these sad feelings are as varied as people and situations are. But then, there are those endless dark dismal days when someone has lost connect with the world, can’t seem to find the will or the energy to perform those routine functions, unable to pull the self together. They cannot be willed away and last for weeks and months. It’s like being drawn into a downward spiral of helplessness and hopelessness and can even influence the person to think of suicide.
And what could be more worrying than the fact that more and more teenagers are contemplating suicide today? It is believed that 80% of adolescents in India, who are exposed to stressful situations, have suicidal tendencies at some point or the other. On the occasion of World Suicide Prevention Day, which is observed on 10 September every year, ParentCircle discusses the reasons for teenagers to commit suicide with Dr Mala Murlidhar, a Bangalore-based clinical psychologist. The expert also shares tips for parents to provide the right support to their teens to prevent untoward instances.
As children move into their teenage years, they often deal with several issues such as peer pressure, academic pressure, relationships, alcohol and drug use, and obesity or weight-related problems. And while we were trying to help our children grapple with these issues, the disturbing 'blue whale' game reared its ugly head on social media, scaring us enough to sit up and take notice. What makes the game alarming is the fact that this life-threatening phenomenon defies all conventional scientific knowledge upon which suicidal behaviour is based. It reveals a hitherto unknown sinister power used by distorted minds to ensnare victims, leading or nudging them through a set of instructions to harm themselves ending with self-destruction. Thus, it is used as a means to an end.
Check out the article below to find out how to safeguard your child from this dreaded game.
Morbid as it sounds, its deceptive modus operandi cleverly skirts around available knowledge of symptoms of suicide. Until it has become a full-blown real threat to vulnerable, but not necessarily depressed or clinically depressed youth, where suicide is an end in itself. The perpetrators ruthlessly exploit the teen’s natural vulnerabilities and predisposition to indulge in risky behaviours.
What then, should we look out for? Apart from the typical symptoms of depression, watch carefully for sudden or subtle unusual changes in behaviour that are not typical of your child.
Identifying suicidal behaviour
Is my teen feeling depressed or worse still, is she suicidal? Many of us are somewhat familiar with the typical symptoms of depression. But what about clinical depression? How do we distinguish between the two and what should we know and do about it?
Many parents are aware of their child’s sad moments that come and go. The alert parent will notice the extended duration, the initial subtle changes that gradually become obvious. At first, they are irritants, then worrisome. The myths and misinformation about typical teenage behaviours blind us to the alarm bells ringing. We convince ourselves that it’s a passing phase. It’s a consoling thought, but don’t stop at worrying. Get proactive and start ticking the boxes in your mind to see if your child exhibits any of these changes:
- Spending extended periods of time in isolation
- Spending too much time on gadgets
- Neglecting their upkeep and appearance
- Headaches, stomachaches, digestive problems or other physical symptoms that are not explained by other physical conditions or do not respond to treatment
- Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
- Persistent sad or ‘empty’ mood, lasting two or more weeks
- Crying ‘for no reason’
- Feeling hopeless, helpless, guilty or worthless
- Feeling irritable, agitated or anxious
- Excluding themselves from social interactions with family and friends
- Documenting evidence of distress in personal diaries or journals
“Parents must recognise these indicators and more importantly never ignore them”, says Dr Mala. “Signs of suicide are never undetectable. They are always evident and can be perceived if the child is regularly supervised by parents,” she adds. Instead of dismissing these signs as ‘teen drama’, be alert and address them without delay.
Awareness about the risk factors is important to prevent suicides amongst children. Click the ClipBook below to know more.
It’s OK to talk about suicide
If you think that talking to your child about suicide will only augment his intentions, you are wrong. “It is absolutely alright to discuss suicide with your child. In fact, a discussion can reassure the child of his parent’s support and that his safety is of utmost concern,” says Dr Mala. She explains that trying to connect and communicate with your child can help dismiss his sense of worthlessness. “You could use statements that he can relate to, perhaps by asking him if he feels that life is not worth living any more, that he shouldn’t be alive or if he wishes to end his life. If these thoughts have not occurred to him, then you are reassured that he is safe.”
What if your child expresses suicidal thoughts?
If, unfortunately, your child does express suicidal tendencies, then stay alert. Here’s what you can do to help your child:
1. Since you might be unable to deal with a serious situation such as this on your own, seek timely professional help.
2. Remember that professional help will not diffuse the situation overnight. Long-term treatment and therapy are essential to avoid recurrence of such tendencies.
3. Additionally, explain to him that it is okay to seek help and that the necessary resources are only for his betterment.
4. Avoid being too harsh or judgemental to his thoughts or difficulties.
5. Continue to reinforce your concern, unconditional love and belief in him, while empathising and understanding his situation in a normal and non-threatening manner.
6. Strong support from family, friends or peer groups can also help increase his level of confidence.
Tips for parents to have a healthy relationship with their teen
1. Although it is important for you to constantly keep an eye on your teenager, it is also equally important for the child to be given his space. If you are too intrusive, your child will only tend to distance himself further.
2. By understanding and supporting your child’s independence, you are allowing him the opportunity to believe in and value himself, while he realises his own worth.
3. Ensure that you spend quality time with your teen and continue to remind him of your support no matter what.
“Open up channels of communication through trust, love and respect,” emphasises Dr Mala. “However,” she adds, “it is also crucial that you control your anxieties about common issues your child might have to deal with as a teenager as this might have a negative impact on him. Rather, give him the chance to deal with these issues while continuing to reassure him of your support. Else, this may encourage a sense of worthlessness in him.”
Importance of early intervention
The risk of suicidal thoughts in teenagers is high which accounts for the high number of teen suicides. There is lack of awareness in India that mental diseases like depression are treatable. If you suspect that your child is having a mental breakdown, act upon it without delay. Suppression, neglect, denial and ignorance often lead to the worst outcome. Awareness and early intervention can help save your child.
Dr Mala Murlidhar is a Bangalore-based clinical psychologist who works extensively with adolescents.
Exclusive inputs from Arundhati Swamy, counsellor and Head of Parent Engagement Programmes, ParentCircle.
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