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World Mental Health Day

World Mental Health Day: Suicide prevention in youth

October 10, 2019

The World Health Organization (WHO) has designated 10th October as World Mental Health Day and has chosen suicide prevention as it’s theme this year. Suicide involves voluntarily taking one’s life. While it is a one-time act, it is an extremely complex phenomenon that involves a combination of psychological and social factors.

Our country is home to the highest number of youth in the world. Adolescence and early adulthood are a time of opportunity but also come with their set of challenges.  There are phases of life where multiple changes occur physically, cognitively, emotionally and interpersonally. Adjusting to these changes can be hard and can therefore leave youngsters vulnerable to poor mental health and consequentially suicide.

Common factors that contribute to suicide in youth:

  • Socio – economic problems including financial distress, caste discrimination and the like,
  • Mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as well as associated stigma,
  • Problems at home including family discord, physical/emotional/sexual abuse,
  • Problems at school including academic stress, bullying, peer pressure,
  • Poor self-esteem, inadequate coping skills, and lack of resilience.

Recommended: World Suicide Prevention Day 2019: Listening is the best therapy

Warning signs:

  • History of a previous suicide attempt,
  • Sleeping and/or eating too little or too much,
  • Withdrawing from loved ones and previously enjoyable activities,
  • Extreme and frequent mood swings,
  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself,
  • Looking for ways to kill oneself,
  • Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose,
  • Talking about being a burden to others,
  • Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless.

Recommended: Focus on children’s emotional and mental well-being”

Ways to combat

There are a few steps that all of us can take to prevent suicides among our youngsters:

  • Develop healthy boundaries within the family. Children must not witness significant discord between their parents and must not be drawn into it. Parents must discuss their disagreements in private so that this does not become a source of stress for your children.
  • Children must be validated and listened to from a young age. This will make them feel supported and they will seek support in case they face problems during later years.
  • Understand that each child is unique. Ensure that comparisons are not made between children. Support them to enhance their strengths and work on their difficulties without being excessively critical. This will aid the development of a healthy self-esteem, which will help them handle stress more constructively as they grow older.
  • Keep children away from today’s competitive rat race. Academic performance related pressure is one of the leading causes of suicide in our youth today. Accept that it is alright if a child does not excel in every subject. More than just marks, his/her all round development is the key to future success.
  • Life skills education must be made mandatory at all schools from the earliest grades. Children must be taught important life skills including critical thinking, decision making, healthy coping skills, resilience, personal and interpersonal effectiveness so that they can deal with challenges as they grow older.
  • Trained school counsellors/psychologists must be present in every school so that youngsters have easy access to expert help when they need it.
  • Youngsters must be provided basic training in how to identify warning signs and support their peers effectively when they undergo difficult phases. This may include training in active listening, how to ask relevant questions, and how to keep a suicidal person safe till they are able to get help.
  • Adults must take good care of their own mental health at all times and be a role model to children so that they can learn good coping strategies.
  • The media can play an active role in suicide prevention by responsible reporting and publishing material related to mental health awareness and help – seeking.
  • As a community, it is important to de-stigmatise mental illness and suicide. Breaking the taboo against talking about mental illness itself, can play a major role in suicide prevention. It is important to view seeking help for mental illness as a healthy and normal behaviour. Also, individuals with a history of attempted suicides must not be shamed, blamed or ridiculed but must be given all the support they need from family, friends and mental health professionals.
  • Every 40 seconds, a life is lost to suicide. Youngsters contemplating suicide need a supporting hand, a comforting shoulder and a patient hearing. Let’s join together to do all we can to support and build a happy and healthy generation.

(This article is authored by Dr. Anupama V., Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Acharya Institute of Graduate Studies, Bengaluru.)

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