Teen Suicides: Risk Factors and Warning Signs

Suicide rates in India are rising alarmingly. Pressures are building up on various fronts, forcing our youngsters to take tragic steps. How can parents help? Read on to find out.

By Renita Siqueira

Teen Suicides: Risk Factors and Warning Signs

A rising concern

According to data from the National Crimes Record Bureau (NCRB), 1,33,623 suicides took place in 2015 in India. Out of this, 6.7% were student suicides. Gender-wise, 4268 of the children between the ages of 14 and 18 who committed suicide were girls and 3672 boys. Whereas for children below 14 years of age, the figures were 790 for boys and 678 for girls.

A study published in The Lancet, a British medical journal, stated that India is among the countries with the highest suicide rates for the 15 to 29 age group, reporting a shocking 35.5 per 1,00,000 people in 2012. (‘Suicide mortality in India: a nationally representative survey’, by Patel V et al, 2012)

Worrisome as the picture presented by the data is, reality is even worse. True, after the Mental Healthcare Bill 2016 decriminalised suicides, the number of cases being reported has gone up, which is in part responsible for the recent rise in suicide rates. Even so, many suicides go unreported, and there are vast numbers of attempted suicides as well, which indicate a grave underlying situation.

However, after the decriminalisation, there is more understanding of the states of mind and risk factors which allow a person, particularly a teenager, to take the drastic step of ending his life. If they are aware of these risk factors, and watchful, parents can provide preventive as well as supportive care to their teens.

There are many life situations which may aggravate a teenager to the point where she thinks life is not worth living. They may be present in isolation, or be interlinked. Let us look at some of the major issues.

Major factors that cause teens to commit suicide

Financial constraints: According to the NCRB, 70% of those who committed suicide in 2015 came from families with incomes lower than Rs. 1,00,000 a year. Children from disadvantaged families or those going through a financial crisis sometimes have to take on additional burdens. This goes hand-in-hand with peer pressure. Too often, teens find themselves unable to cope with the harsh reality of not only not being able to afford the things their classmates enjoy, but having to help their families eke out a living as well.

Pressure to perform: Children in India are under intense pressure to score well in academics in order to secure high-paying jobs. In their anxiety to see that their children achieve superlative results, parents enrol their wards in coaching centres that require a great outlay of money on the parents’ part, and immense outlay of time and effort by the students. Burdened by unrealistic goals, children are unbearably disappointed when they fail to meet these expectations.

Parenting problems: Working parents sometimes are so exhausted that they do not spend time with their children. To compensate, they try to give their children everything they ask for. As the children grow, so do their demands, and usually, when parents finally find themselves unable to meet these demands, the children are in their teens, in itself an unsettling time. The children feel unwanted and rejected by their parents, and this prompts them to think of ending their lives.

Modern parents are also overly protective of their children. They do not allow them to experience failure of any sort and shield them from criticism. This does not equip the teens to be independent and cope in a healthy way with the failures they must inevitably face, leading them to take impulsive steps like committing suicide.

Societal demands: Peer pressure is one of the biggest factors that affect teens. The strain of having to fit in with different people, the fear of ostracism or being discriminated against, or loneliness can bear heavily on youngsters. Being bullied can also sometimes lead to suicide.

In their teens, children are still discovering themselves and their strengths. A broken heart or other troubles, coupled with a lack of support systems can make life seem too hard to come to terms with. Teenagers are also carried away by the fairytale relationships portrayed in movies and serials, and are dejected when they are unable to experience these in real life.

And when they step into colleges, teenagers discover a new freedom which often leads them to experiment with narcotics and alcohol – experiments which may turn into addictions, and drive life downhill for them.

Other social demands that many teens, particularly girls, are not able to bear include child marriage and dowry, both illegal but still prevalent.

Added to these, there is the danger posed by malicious challenges like the Blue Whale game which eggs children on to set aside their reasoning powers and ‘prove their mettle’ at the cost of their own lives.

Mental health issues: Apart from external pressures, children suffering from schizophrenia, depression, anxiety and abuse of any kind are at high risk for committing suicide. The stigma still attached to mental illness means that there aren’t too many spaces to talk about mental health and bottled up emotions sometimes find an outlet in suicide.

Identifying warning signs

The dangers are real. But if parents are sensitive and watchful, they can spot many warning signs in their children that can help them take preventive action. Here are some of them:

  • Antisocial behaviour
  • Withdrawal from close relationships
  • Changes in personality such as unwarranted aggression, and feelings of worthlessness and lack of purpose
  • Talking, writing or drawing pictures of death or suicides
  • Being prone to panic attacks
  • Saying goodbye in various subtle ways – e.g. giving away their possessions
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Deterioration in physical appearance
  • Disturbed sleeping patterns
  • Drop in academic performance

Children with mental disorders or a history of depression should be watched carefully as well as those with a history of substance abuse and a record of suicide attempts.

Teens contemplating suicide may also research the subject online. A watch on their browsing history will help. This could also reveal whether they are being bullied online.

With awareness, alertness and sensitivity, parents can be proactive in helping their teens deal sensibly with pressure, and stay safe.

The author is currently working with Safecity as the Communications Officer. She writes a blog – Pensive ‘Ren’derings.


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