Career & Education

Addressing teen suicide

Dr Karla Hylton

Sunday, May 07, 2017

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Suicide is scary and devastating. It certainly isn't a topic that many people, young or old, want to talk about, ostensibly because it is felt that if it is not mentioned, then it is not really happening. But it is happening and should be confronted head on. It is time to break the silence.Suicide is a growing health concern that is impacting youngsters more and more each day. All members of society, including — or perhaps especially — educators, must embrace the problem and learn how to detect signs in our youngsters which will provide clues about their emotional state of mind. We then must be able to provide or direct them to much needed help before their issues escalate to a suicide attempt or actual suicide.

Always bear in mind that it is more likely for a person who has attempted suicide to do so again. And the next time, he or she is more likely to succeed.

Why do teens Commit Suicide?

Teenagers are faced with stressful situations ranging from poor grades, lack of finances, poor relationships, lack of acceptance among peers, as well as family dynamics. Some specific circumstances that can contribute to a teen's consideration of suicide are:

• Divorce

• New family formation - step-parents and step-siblings

• Moving

• Physical abuse

• Sexual abuse

• Domestic violence

• Alcoholism at home

• Substance abuse

• Bullying

• Neglectful parenting

Many see suicide as an escape from feelings or situations of pain, rejection, abandonment, or loss. They feel hopeless and helpless and feel they have no one to turn to for emotional support. Teens may also be afraid of disappointing others. This may occur due to a parent's response after receiving a bad report card, for example. This is why it is of utmost importance as parents to be careful with the words we choose when we speak to our children, even if we are angry.

Mental illnesses, such as depression, bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder can be the root cause of teen suicide. This is a health problem and should be treated as such, as would a physical condition such as cancer or diabetes. The stigma attached to mental illness needs to be removed. This can be done through greater public education.

It is crucial to note, however, that suicidal tendencies do not appear out of the blue. There are warning signs. However, adults are often oblivious or simply choose to ignore these signs.

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry suggests the following signs and symptoms that one should take note of:

• Change in eating and sleeping habits

• Withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities

• Violent actions, rebellious behaviour, or running away

• Drug and alcohol use

• Unusual neglect of personal appearance

• Marked personality change

• Persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating, or a decline in the quality of schoolwork

• Frequent complaints about physical symptoms often related to emotions, such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.

• Loss of interest in pleasurable activities

• Not tolerating praise or rewards.

A teenager who is planning to commit suicide may also:

• Complain of being a bad person or feeling rotten inside

• Give verbal hints with statements such as: “I won't be a problem for you much longer”, “Nothing matters”, “It's no use”, or “I won't see you again”

• Put his or her affairs in order, for example, give away favourite possessions, clean his or her room, throw away important belongings, etc.

• Become suddenly cheerful after a period of depression

How to Help

It is important that we be observant of students in our care. Do not ignore signs; take them extremely seriously. If you suspect that a teen is considering suicide, it is critical that you remain calm. Consider asking him/her directly, “Are you thinking of suicide?”. If he/she is not considering suicide, this question will not push him/her in that direction.

If the teen says yes, do not accuse him/her and do not pass judgement. Instead, show empathy and listen to the issues. Do not try to argue the teen out of thinking about suicide. This is counterproductive and may even accelerate the suicide attempt. Reassure him/her and explain that he/she will not feel this way forever. Be sure to restrict access to firearms, or medication that can be used as a means of committing suicide.

If the person is threatening suicide at a particular point, do not leave him/her alone. This is a crisis situation. Seek assistance from a professional quickly.

Dr Karla Hylton is the author of Yes! You Can Help Your Child Achieve Academic Success and Complete Chemistry for Caribbean High Schools. She operates Bio & Chem Tutoring, which specialises in secondary level biology and chemistry. Reach her at (876) 564-1347, bio chemtutor100@gmail.com or khylton.com.

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