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
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.
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
The death of a close friend or family member, divorce or separation
of parents are also risk factors for suicide.
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
Mentioned below are some cases of students who committed suicide for
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 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.
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
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
Some other warning signs of adolescents who may attempt suicide
Change in eating and sleeping
Withdrawal from friends, family and
Violent actions, rebellious
behaviour, or running away.
Drug and alcohol use.
Unusual neglect of personal
Marked personality change.
Sense of helplessness and
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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:
The Samaritans: 23073451