Nurturing Growth


The SSC results came out in June 2004. While some students rejoiced, others were depressed for various reasons ? dismal results, failure to join a college of their choice, etc. ?and took the disastrous step of committing suicide. It is shocking to see the low acceptance level of failure in students and the increasing trend of suicides. SANAYA KANTAK, Counselling Psychologist, Growth Centre (I) Pvt. Ltd., gives readers an insight into the factors that lead teenagers to commit suicide and how support from family and friends can help avert suicidal tendencies.

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ow often has this thought crossed your mind? And during which phases of your life have you experienced such loneliness?having no one’s shoulder to cry on? Were you able to move on and cope constructively?

Unfortunately, one of the methods that the youth resort to is the escape route?SUICIDE. Suicide among youngsters nationwide has increased dramatically over the past few years. Every year, in India, thousands of teenagers commit suicide.

According to The Hindu dated 14 July, 2003, the incidence of suicide has risen at a compound rate of 4 per cent, far exceeding the compound population growth of 1.9 per cent during the decade 1990-2000 in India. It was in this decade that the population grew by 21 per cent, while the rate of suicide increased by 21.2 per cent, according to the National Crime Records Bureau. The Bureau said in its latest report that, in 2000, Maharashtra reported the highest number of suicides ?12.9 per cent ?closely followed by West Bengal with 12.8 per cent of the total suicides.

Alarming, isn’t it? What could be the underlying cause(s) for such a morbid trend? Why do adolescents perceive suicide as a solution to the problems they face?

As much as we would like to point our finger at one cause, there are many reasons that drive adolescents away from the hope of life. Teenagers tend to experience strong feelings of stress, confusion, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty and other fears while growing up.

Family History
Young people who grow up in dysfunctional families (those who have experienced violence, addiction, poverty, and sexual, physical, and/or emotional abuse) and lack close bonds with adults who provide protection are often leery of those who do. Feeling misunderstood and rejected, these children live painful, lonely lives and lack adequate support, encouragement and guidance in dealing with their often-overwhelming problems.

The death of a close friend or family member, divorce or separation of parents are also risk factors for suicide.

Academic Challenges
Failing academic performance, impending exams, exam results and extra-curricular involvement can cause profound stress. Behavioural health researchers are just beginning to study the effects of our achievement-oriented society on children who may be already driven by a need for excellence. Pressure to attain unrealistic goals can lead young people to consider suicide. Children and adolescents should be encouraged to strive for realistic goals.

Mentioned below are some cases of students who committed suicide for various reasons?

  • In November 2003, a student of Standard IX and her classmate committed suicide after their parents scolded them for scoring low marks in examinations.

  • In September 2001, a first-year engineering student of Hyderabad committed suicide by throwing himself in front of an oncoming train. “This is my appeal that seniors should not target juniors in the name of ragging and destroy their promising lives,?he said in his suicide note.

  • In June 2003, a 16-year-old student in Tamil Nadu committed suicide after his teacher beat him up.

  • A final-year literature student of a college in Mumbai jumped to her death from the fourth floor of her college building. She was re-appearing for her university exam, which she had not completed earlier because of an illness. Police cited the reason for her suicide as fear or anxiety of performance in her ongoing university exam.

  • An 18-year-old youth attempted suicide after a broken love affair in May 2003.


Social Reasons
Social problems can also lead children to suicidal thoughts. The break-up of a relationship, rejection from peers, low self-esteem and feelings of powerlessness in their families can be devastating to kids. It is important for adults to work towards understanding these problems because, ultimately, they affect the child or adolescent’s sense of worth.

Biological Factors/Substance Abuse
Certain biological factors play a significant role in the development of behavioural health problems, including substance abuse. A family history of suicide, addiction and mental disorders such as depression increases the risk for a teen to develop these problems. Some studies have demonstrated that people who have attempted suicide have low levels of the brain chemical, serotonin, which helps regulate mood, emotion, sleep and appetite.

Adolescent drug and alcohol abuse result in higher risk of suicide because of the mind-altering effects of the substances often in combination with the reasons that the young person may have begun experimenting with drugs in the first place. It has been found that many young people with emotional conflicts begin using drugs to “medicate?their emotional distress, but quickly find themselves in more trouble due to poor decisions, lower grades and conflicts with family. Still worse, many of the drugs that young people initially take to “feel better?tend to deplete the level of serotonin.

Mental Health
Children with diagnosable mental health disorders such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, depression, sleep difficulties or bipolar disorder are more at risk of suicide than the general population. Feelings of isolation or hopelessness can lead to suicidal thoughts.

Many of these behavioural health problems can be effectively treated usually through a combination of professional counselling and/or medication. It is important for young people to understand that there is no shame or guilt in seeking help to deal with a behavioural health problem.

The Warning Signs of Suicide
Suicide is rarely a spur-of-the-moment decision. In the days and hours before people kill themselves, there are usually clues and warning signs ?which may be physical, behavioural or emotional.

The strongest and most disturbing signs are verbal: “I can’t go on? “Nothing matters any more? “I won’t be a problem much longer? “If anything happens, I want you to know…”; “I want to kill myself? “Who cares if I live or die? “It’s hopeless? or even “I’m thinking of ending it all? Such remarks should always be taken seriously.

Some other warning signs of adolescents who may attempt suicide are:

  • 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.

  • Sense of helplessness and worthlessness.

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

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

  • Incidents of self-mutilation.

  • 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? and “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.

  • Have signs of psychosis (hallucinations or bizarre thoughts).

  • Write about death and suicide.

Although a person may contemplate suicide, it is not necessary that he/she will pursue the final execution of the plan. However, others should be extremely cautious, as there is a higher risk of suicide if the number of signs displayed is high.

Now, the question arises: What can you do to help? It’s simple: Take Action!

Before we decide what steps we must take, it’s necessary for us to educate ourselves, to have an idea of what suicidal people want and do not want.

What do people who feel suicidal want?

  • Someone to listen. Someone who will take time to really listen to them. Someone who won’t judge, or give advice or opinions, but will give their undivided attention.

  • Someone to trust. Someone who will respect them and won’t try to take charge. Someone who will treat everything in complete confidence.

  • Someone to care. Someone who will make himself/herself available, put the person at ease and speak calmly. Someone who will speak calmly. Someone who will reassure, accept and believe. Someone who will say, “I care?

What do people who feel suicidal not want?

  • To be alone. Rejection can make the problem seem 10 times worse. Having someone to turn to makes all the difference.

  • To be advised. Lectures don’t help. Nor does a suggestion to “cheer up? or an easy assurance that “everything will be okay? Don’t analyse, compare, categorise or criticise. Just listen.

  • To be interrogated. Don’t change the subject, don’t pity or patronise. Talking about feelings is difficult. People who feel suicidal don’t want to be rushed or put on the defensive. Just listen.

Listed below are some steps you should follow if you know anyone who is exhibiting warning signs.

Three Steps Parents Can Take:
1. Get your child help (medical or mental health professional).
2. Support your child (listen, avoid undue criticism, remain connected).
3. Become informed (library, local support group, internet).

Three Steps Teens Can Take:
1. Take your friend’s actions seriously.
2. Encourage your friend to seek professional help, accompany him/her if necessary.
3. Talk to an adult you trust. Don’t be alone in helping your friend.

If a child or adolescent has just attempted suicide, contact an emergency professional immediately. Do not leave him or her alone and do not argue. Stay calm and remain in control. Provide comfort and reassurance.

Encourage the young person to express their feelings. Listen without making harsh comments or passing judgement. Do not force children to talk about a situation if they are not yet ready.

Reassure the child or adolescent, but avoid minimising the seriousness of their concerns. Listen carefully and offer to make arrangements for them to talk to a behavioural health professional, school counsellor, or clergy with good credentials.

Attempt to determine the seriousness of the suicidal feelings. Does your child have a plan, means (gun, knife, pills, etc.) or time?

The most important thing you can do immediately for your child or adolescent is simply to listen to them. They need to know that someone cares and that someone will listen. Too often when we talk with children we find ourselves getting caught up in having to help them resolve their problems by giving advice. This is not what is needed when they are already feeling hopeless. The most important long-term thing you can do is to link the suicidal person with a network of professional support that will result in resolving the underlying causes.

If you are not certain if the behaviour was a suicide attempt, open the door for honest disclosure by simply asking if they have had thoughts about hurting themselves. If the child or teen admits to having suicidal thoughts, ask them if they have a plan and talk about the consequences of their actions.

It is imperative that the family members stay involved with the child even after the suicide attempt. Though the incident may seem to be a thing of the past, the underlying issues that led to the suicide may not be. With support from the family and professional treatment, children and teenagers who are suicidal can heal and return to a healthier path of development.

Death is not the solution to any problem?The only solution is Life? Choose to Survive, give yourself Time, and you will Heal.

A few Suicide Helplines in Mumbai are:

  • ChildLine: 1098

  • Maitra: 25385447

  • Mashaal: 26485777

  • Prerna: 25905959

  • The Samaritans: 23073451