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Posts from the edge

Violent outbursts and stroppiness mask underlying loneliness and despair among the young and connected, shows a Fortis Healthcare Survey. Health editor Sanchita Sharma writes. See graphics

columns Updated: Sep 16, 2012 01:45 IST
Sanchita Sharma
Sanchita Sharma
Hindustan Times

I hate you all and I want to die." Emotional outbursts and raging tantrums accompanied by much door-slamming are pretty much a part of the life of every teenager and, by extension, their friends and family. That's perhaps why most of us shrug off these rants as melodramatic overreaction to anything and everything and complacently assume that when the hormonal spike peters out, so would the angst.

In most cases, the trauma does vapourise almost instantly and the everything is right with the world in a day or two. Friends and family, however, need to watch out darker signs of underlying hopelessness that could point to an emerging emotional breakdown leading to self-harm and, in some cases, suicide.

One in three 13 to 19 year olds find life too hard to cope with and one in four think - albeit once in a while - that their families are better off without them, found Fortis Healthcare's Teen Suicide Survey. For the survey, a representative sample of 2,364 school-going teens were questioned online and interviewed by the department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare, which also collated the data.

"The findings highlight the loneliness and social alienation of teenagers even in the era of social networking and instant connectivity," says Dr Samir Parikh, director, department of department of mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare. See graphics.

"While Facebook and other social media are an excellent for sharing, it has also led to emotions being reduced to a status update. "Like-dislike', "I'm low-I'm in a party mood,'' "friends-frenemy"… The easy labelling has led to the lowering of emotional bonding and empathy that comes with sharing time together, leading to physical isolation and despair even among young people who seem to have more friends than they can keep track of," says Dr Parikh.

So intense is the loneliness that one in three - 31% - teens feel that no one can help them with their problems and almost two in three - 62% - not having spoken to anyone about their thoughts and feelings, showed the Fortis Survey. Interestingly, among those who had vented, more than half (55%) turned to their friends for help.

Though dark and dreary moods rarely convert into self harm, there is no taking away from the fact that even with the wide under-reporting - largely because attempt to suicide is punishable with imprisonment under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code - India has among the highest in the world, with to about 1.87 lakh people killing themselves in 2010. Recognising that attempt at self-harm is driven by despair and helplessness and not criminal intent, the Law Commission of India has recommended that attempt it be decriminalised.

Most people who hurt themselves are likely to do it before the age of 30. The Registrar General of India's data shows 3% of causes of death surveyed (2,684 of 95,335) in people 15 years or older were suicide, of which 40% of all suicides in men and 56% in women occurred at ages 15-29 years, reported Vikram Patel from The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the Lancet.

"Emotions are intensified in adolescents by a complex interplay between genetic, biological, psychiatric and psychosocial factors, which take a trigger to push a child over the edge," says Parikh. These factors hold true across the world, reports another Lancet study on self harm and suicides in teens.

"You have to watch out for the red flags - looking dejected for a couple of weeks, persistent irritability, social withdrawal etc - and engage with teenagers to ensure they do not get trapped into a vortex of despair," says Dr Rajesh Sagar, additional professor, department of psychiatry, All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi.

First Published: Sep 15, 2012 22:31 IST