Satya*, a 17-year-old, was initially happy with his Class 12 results. He had passed his exams. But as time passed, he started to feel increasingly upset, and he felt that his parents were disappointed with him. His initial feelings of happiness dipped rapidly, and he felt that he needed to be away from people.
He climbed up to the terrace and stood there, as the sun’s heat punished him. He felt that this punishment was not enough. After all, his parents had given him everything that he had ever asked for! But what had he given them in return? He did not even meet their expectations!
The teenager stood at the edge of the terrace for a long time, contemplating whether to jump or not. Then, he heard something. His father calling his name, in a loving manner. It seems they wanted to take him out, as a reward. It seems that they were still proud of him. It seems that they still loved him.
As Satya realised this, he jumped. But backwards, onto the terrace and walked back home, the sun no longer burning into his skin.
With the exam results just announced, it is crucial that we learn to tackle and identify signs of one of the most terrifying incidents a parent or family member can go through: Suicide.
A study conducted by NIMHANS, Bengaluru, stated that those in the age group of 15 to 29 years showed the highest rates of suicide (Gururaj and Issac, 2001).
The lack of cognitive and emotional maturity prevents younger children from experiencing profound levels of hopelessness or even plan a suicide. However, as they grow older they face increasing pressure to either conform with or meet expectations of parents and peers.
Some of the most common reasons why teenagers are known to commit suicide are loss of a romantic relationship, perceived or real failure in examinations, peer pressure or getting rejected by peers and also, failure to meet parental expectations.
These are some of the warning signs to identify suicidal intent:
1. Talking or writing about death. For example “I wish I was dead so I would not have to go through this.”
2. Researching about different ways to commit suicide. The internet is filled with information on suicide. Warning bells should go off if there is any indication that they are looking for things like “the least painful way to die” or “the quickest way to die.”
3. Asking questions such as “what would you do if I die?” These questions can be a way of giving you a slight hint or even preparing you for such an event. Be sure to talk to them and give them a chance to express themselves.
4. Withdrawing from friends and family. They may feel that interacting with others is not beneficial to them or they might want to withdraw in an attempt to protect others when they are gone.
5. Dramatic mood changes. After being moody and withdrawn for some time, there might be a sudden improvement in mood and they may be overly outgoing and happy.
6. Giving away their prized possessions. Favourite possessions that are of high emotional value are given off to those that they think deserve them.
7. Declaring their love or final goodbye messages to family and friends. Telling you how much they love you or expressing their gratitude can be an indicator that they are, in fact, saying their goodbyes.
If someone shares their suicidal thoughts with you, don’t keep it to yourself. It is a huge responsibility. Seek as much support as you can and encourage them to speak to a mental health professional. It is important to address the causes of such suicidal thoughts and deal with it in an appropriate manner. This can be done effectively by a mental health professional.
These are some of the immediate steps to take:
1. Do not leave them alone. Make sure that there is somebody with them for most of the time
2. Remove access to objects that they can use to harm themselves. Various studies have shown that the methods of committing suicide differ between men and women. However, amongst teenagers, the most common causes of death are consumption of poisonous substances, hanging or jumping from high places and self immolation.
3. Talk to them about what they are going through and how they are coping with it. “How are you feeling about this?” or even a direct “have you thought about Suicide?” can help.
4. Develop a safety plan that can help the person identify triggers that can lead to suicide. Take them through what to do when they have a strong urge to commit suicide?
a. List out their strengths and positive aspects.
b. Postpone a suicide attempt by a few days until the urge passes.
c. Be in close contact with your loved ones (even pets).
d. If no one is available, call an emergency line to keep yourself engaged.
e. Do not consume alcohol or other drugs as it can make you impulsive and increase chances of committing suicide.
f. Make sure that the means to commit suicide are removed. For example, lock up all the poisonous substances and give the key to somebody else.
g. Don’t try to handle the situation alone.
Sometimes, however, suicide can also be an impulsive act driven by strong emotions. So, it is not enough that we watch out for signs alone. It is more crucial to provide a safe and honest environment for children so that they can grow up to be strong individuals who can face their emotions.
It is often believed that talking about suicide will push the person to do something self-destructive. On the contrary, however, an open conversation about suicide may reduce the risk of acting upon such feelings. In fact, the most common risk factors for suicide are poor communication, disruptive family relationships, impulsiveness, and poor problem-solving.
Keeping all this in mind, it still takes a lot of courage to acknowledge that one of your loved ones is thinking of ending their life. Seek help for yourself and your loved ones from a mental health professional, bring in positive life-changes, and continue to support one another.
Janani Vasanth is a clinical psychologist based in Chennai.