We were last talking about how to prevent a teenager from committing suicide. But a lot of times, that phase may already be too late. I have two teenage daughters who are quite reserved and have trouble making friends at their new school. Moreover, some girls at the school are bullying them. How do I prevent them from even getting to the stage where they are contemplating suicide?
You may try to be the best parent that you possibly can be in the world, and even that may be not enough to circumvent the external factors that can cause your teenager to contemplate suicide.
The external factor may be a boy at school, a teacher, or a best friend who has decided not to be friends with your child anymore.
It may even be that your daughters are being persecuted by others at school for simply being “different”.
Your teen may also choose not to tell you anything because they want you to keep on believing that they are perfect, or that everything in their lives is perfect. Your approval may be important to them.
Yet, if you are vigilant in looking out for the signs, you may notice them.
There are certain family factors that you can influence and enable to make your family more contented and able to talk to one another if things go bad in their lives.
What are they?
Factors that diminish the risk of teen suicide include:
• Providing a family or school environment that encourages talking and socialising with one another.
• Ensuring that the school your teen goes to is safe, e.g. less gang activities or crimes.
• Not giving your teen access to firearms.
This is especially important in the United States where gun control legislation is poor.
Although we do not have mass gun shootings in Malaysia, it does not mean that firearms are not present in some Malaysian homes.
There are also other means of committing suicide, like drinking paraquat – a very common way teens in Malaysia use to commit suicide.
• Promoting academic achievement as these teens are less likely to commit suicide.
But this academic achievement should not be at the expense of the teen’s well-being.
For example, if you make your teen study until midnight every night in order to get 10 A1s, this might not be the healthy environment you are seeking. Know your teen’s limitations.
• Promoting a healthy self-esteem in your teen.
Emphasise more on emotional intelligence, kindness and compassion towards others, rather than just academic achievement.
If you overinflate your teen’s ego, then you might be creating a narcissist instead, where your teen grows into an entitled adult who believes that she is above everyone else!
What about adults? My wife seems to be depressed lately, ever since our third child was born. She struggles with coping, even though she has given up her job. She does not have enough sleep and her behaviour has been erratic of late.
Warning signs in adults are just as important as those in teens.
It is a myth to assume that adults have better coping mechanisms just because they are more experienced or can deal with stress better.
Adults can contemplate suicide if they feel overwhelmed by the challenges in their lives.
A man can feel overwhelmed by having to provide for his family, especially if he has just lost his job or his savings.
A mother can feel overwhelmed by having to maintain a job and looking after her children, especially if the father is not helpful at home.
These are the signs you can look out for:
• Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed, e.g. if a woman has always liked dressing up to go out with her friends previously, but now no longer cares or makes the effort.
• Being irritable, angry or anxious a lot of the time.
• Feeling shame or humiliation.
• Intense mood swings.
• Talking about killing themselves.
Watch out for this especially, as it may not be as straightforward as them saying “I want to kill myself”.
Sometimes, the person may say, “I wish I could go to sleep and not wake up ever” or “I wish a hole would open and swallow me up forever”.
Passive intent statements are just as important as active intent ones.
• Saying “life has no meaning or purpose”.
• Feeling like being a burden to the family or others.
• Feeling stuck or hopeless, unable to see a way out of the situation life has put them in.
• Feeling like not wanting to exist.
• Isolation, e.g. not communicating with friends or family.
• Driving recklessly.
• Increased alcohol or drug use.
• Gathering pills or a weapon.
Adults in the medical profession especially, can fake prescriptions and have access to pharmaceuticals.
• Searching about suicide on the internet.
Bear in mind that older people are at increased risk for suicide compared to other age groups.
They have a tendency to do things like make wills or give away their possessions like heirlooms, jewellery and watches.
You should consult a doctor, psychologist or mental health professional immediately if you strongly suspect someone is feeling suicidal, regardless of whether the person has consented to it.
Remember that a religious elder might not be as well equipped as a psychologist to deal with this matter.