Preventing Adolescent Suicide in Goa


Iris CF Gomes

Suicide is assuming epidemic proportions in this century, particularly in the context of adolescents. With the various modern pressures that engulf young people, it is not surprising that the suicide rate among adolescents in the world is 35.8%. What is even more disturbing is that our tiny state of Goa has 5% more that the average suicide rate in India which is 10.6 per lakh. We know it does not bode well for Goa when it is highlighted as a destination for suicide tourism. The problem is dire and something needs to be done with immediacy to curb it.


Adolescents describes young people from the age of 10-19 years according to WHO. It is a known fact that the prefrontal cortex does not develop completely until around 25 years of age. The prefrontal cortex is important in decision making. This accounts for the rash, irresponsible behaviour often displayed by adolescents. It also explains why many adolescent suicides are acts committed in the heat of the moment.


The Indian Academy of Paediatrics has put together Mission Kishore Uday, an action plan to prevent adolescent suicide, employing the participation of parents, teachers and caretakers. It has been found that suicide is the leading cause of adolescent deaths in India. Four out of five adolescents will present warning signs that can be observed and with counselling and psychiatric help lives can be saved.


Warning Signs of Suicide:

  • There will be a verbalisation of the death wish through talking, writing and making posts on social media. Eg ‘I wish I had never been born’.
  • They will acquire the means for the action, search the internet for information regarding means of committing suicide or look up suicide helplines.
  • Exhibiting feelings of hopelessness like life has no meaning or there is no hope.
  • Exhibiting self-hatred along with disturbed sleep and appetite. Saying things such as, ‘I am a burden to my family’.
  • Getting things in order by distributing possessions among friends and relatives, closing bank accounts, doing charity, etc.
  • Making unexpected visits to friends and relatives to say goodbye. Even texting goodbye.
  • Withdrawing from familial and friendship settings.
  • Failing classes.
  • Becoming excessively angry and aggressive.
  • Indulging in high risk behaviours such as driving rashly, doing drugs, consuming alcohol in high amounts and increasing smoking.

While parents and teachers should be the first to be able to detect the suicidal tendency, they must be non-judgemental and empathetic in their approach and not presume that the child is only trying to seek attention. Engaging adolescents in discussions about their suicidal thoughts greatly reduces the prospect of self-harm. In more serious cases, referrals to paediatricians, psychiatrists or counsellors can be made.


Some of the factors that gear adolescents towards suicide are:

  • Low self-esteem
  • Having attempted suicide previously
  • Alcohol and drug abuse
  • Failure of a romantic relationship
  • Mental health problems
  • Chronic disease
  • Loss of a loved one
  • Grappling with sexual identity
  • Family history of suicide
  • Dysfunctional family situation, for example, alcoholic parents, domestic violence, etc.
  • Bullying and cyberbullying
  • Sexual abuse
  • Excessive disciplinary methods in school
  • Poor academic performance


One of the immediate issues that are a deterrent to providing aid to suicidal teens is that there are not enough mental health professionals in proportion to the population. Aside from this, the facilities available are often inaccessible and too expensive. Lack of awareness is, of course, a significant concern apart from the social stigma that is attached to mental health issues.


What can we do to curtail the adolescent suicide epidemic? We start with giving young people the building blocks and a firm foundation to become resilient in the face of adversity and life skills to overcome challenges. Authoritative parenting is essential for this. Here the parent is not overly indulgent and sets restrictions and limits to what a child can and cannot do but at the same time is emotionally available to the child when needed.


Children should be taught to deal with failure; to accept it and look upon it as a learning experience. They must learn to exercise critical thinking and not give in to emotions. Having a strong support system involving family, school and friends, plays a significant role in obstructing suicidal behaviour.


Lethal weapons, pills or other means of self-harm should be kept out of the reach of troubled adolescents.


A sound cultural and religious belief system have also a significant part to play in arming adolescents against the perils of suicidal thoughts.


The internet has sprung up new stressors that affect adolescents. Therefore, parents need to be vigilant about online activity to safeguard adolescents from predatory attacks and cyberbullying. Advise young people to never disclose personal information and send revealing photographs through the internet, avoid chatting with strangers and contact the local cybercrime branch in case of harassment.


Remember, we need to be there for vulnerable young people because ‘Suicide is not a wish to die. It is a cry for help’.

A free app for suicide prevention has been developed that can be downloaded at https://mhtech.in.

 


*This article is based on a talk given by Dr Arvind Almeida at the Friday Balcao, Goa.