Teen Suicides: A parent’s guide

Suicide is a terrifying word and parents don’t want to associate it with their teens. But statistics prove it is a real danger, given the pressures children face. Here are ways to tackle the issue.

By Renita Siqueira

Teen Suicides:  A parent’s guide

’Sorry Mom,' Wrote Hyderabad Girl Found Hanging After School Shaming” — NDTV (2 Feb 2018)

Once again, this headline reminds us of the perils of shaming a child, especially a teen. Emotionally hurting the child has produced a consequence which is truly tragic indeed!

Teens are extremely self-conscious about how they come across to others. They must find their way through the cross-currents of puberty, social relationships and an evolving self-image. They are not yet sure of who they are and how others see them. Social evaluation plays a key role. Their emotions peak when they feel they are being evaluated by others. Shaming experiences smash their fragile self-image, causing them to feel deeply humiliated, embarrassed and ashamed of themselves. "What will people think of me?" becomes an inhibiting thought. When shaming happens in the context of an important life event, the impact is greater. —*Arundhati Swamy

Official data shows that the number of youngsters in the 14–29 age group committing suicide is increasing in India. The reasons for taking this extreme step range from falling prey to the diabolical Whale Challenge to being rejected in love, from failure to achieve expectations in academics to being chided by a teacher. The pity is that such tragedies could have been prevented by the right type of intervention by parents, and, if necessary, by professional counsellors.

Let us look at some proactive measures parents can take to ensure that their children do not resort to drastic steps.

Communication is key

Regular, open communication between parents and children is essential for gauging a child’s state of mind. As parents, we must cultivate the knack of getting our teenaged children to share their hopes, fears and worries with us. It is a difficult knack to acquire, because teens are generally reluctant to confide in their parents. Dr Damon Constantinides, a psychotherapist at ‘Relationship and Sex Therapy Associates in Philadelphia’ says, “A teenager’s job is to push against their parents, and the job of a parent of a teenager is to hold tight and be present.” So, be present, and try to talk often to your child about anything and everything. Listen to him without being judgemental. And, if he mentions suicide, don’t panic or shout at him. Stay calm, and try to get him to tell you why he is thinking of such drastic measures.

Ways to dissuade a child from committing suicide

The realisation that your child is contemplating suicide will, of course, be frightening to you, as a parent. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Understand that feeling suicidal isn’t in his nature – it is merely a state of mind, which can be overcome.
  • Make lifestyle changes to deal with a teen’s suicidal tendencies. Spend more time with your child. Talk, listen and get to know her.
  • Encourage your child to be frank about her feelings.
  • Be receptive to his thoughts and feelings, try to understand his point of view.
  • Once you get to know what is worrying her, try to work out a solution with her participation.
  • Make him see that it is in his power to turn his life around, and there is always a better option than suicide.
  • Throughout the discussions, make it clear to her that she has your unconditional love and support.

Dealing with a child who has attempted suicide

At times, parents will realise that their child was facing a problem only after she attempts suicide. However shocked and overwhelmed you may be, your first concern must be for your child. The whole family has to treat her with sensitivity, and care. Understand that what she most needs at this point is your unconditional love and support. Understand that there are no quick fixes to such issues, and the child will require time to get over the problem. Here’s a checklist:

  • Ensure that someone is always present with the child – he might repeat the attempt.
  • Do not reproach her for taking the step she did. Don’t ask judgemental questions like, “How could you do this?” Instead, make it clear that you are there for her.
  • Create a safe and open space for your child to express himself.
  • Understand the child’s perspective. Try to find a solution together.
  • Seek professional counselling, not only for the child but for the entire family.
  • Encourage your child to draw up solutions or a ‘safety plan’ that she can use if she finds herself in a similar situation.
  • Help your child to take on responsibility – a little at a time – it is imperative that he is responsible for himself, and not dependent on you.
  • Make sure she gets necessary medication.

Seeking professional help

Parental support and lifestyle changes will usually make all the difference to a child who was contemplating or has attempted suicide. Having a support system of family and friends is most important. However, if you notice persistent behavioural and personality changes that indicate suicidal tendencies, or the child continues to be depressed, do not hesitate to take professional help.

After identifying a mental health specialist, talk to your teen and find out if he is comfortable with the choice. It is vital for the child to develop a good relationship with his counsellor. Also, make it a point to discuss treatment plans with him.

Here are some organisations that will help:

  • Aasra, Mumbai– 022 2754 6669
  • The Samaritans, Mumbai– 022 6464 3267, 022 6565 3267, 022 6565 3247, samaritans.helpline@gmail.com
  • MINDS Gujarat– +91 9033837227; info@mindsfoundation.org, Bhavnagar and Vadodara, Gujarat
  • Sikkim– 221152, Police Control Room, Gangtok
  • iCall– +91 22 2556 3291, e-mail – icall@tiss.edu, Mumbai
  • Thanal, Kerala– 0495 237 1100, thanal.calicut@gmail.com
  • Sneha, Chennai– 044 2464 0050
  • Lifeline, Kolkata– 033 2474 4704
  • Sahai, Bangalore– 080 2549 7777
  • Prathyasa, Kerala– +91 480 2820091
  • Pratheeksha, Kerala– +91 484 2448830, rajiravi2000@hotmail.com
  • Saath, Ahmedabad– 079 2630 5544, 079 2630 0222
  • Roshni, Secunderabad– 040 7904646, help@roshnihyd.org
  • Lifeline Foundation, Kolkata– +91 33 2463 7401, +91 33 2463 7432
  • Sumaitri, New Delhi– 011 2338 9090, feelingsuicidal@sumaitri.net
  • Maithri, Kochi– +91 484 2540530, maithrihelp@gmail.com
  • Nagpur Suicide Prevention Helpline– 8888817666
  • Sneha, Chennai– +91 44 2464 0050, 91 44 2464 0060, help@snehaindia.org
  • Maitreyi, Pondicherry– +91 413 339999

The author is a Communications Officer at Safecity. She writes a blog – Pensive ‘Ren’derings.

*Arundhati Swamy is a counsellor and the Head of Parent Engagement Programs at ParentCircle.

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