How to support and rescue a child who sees suicide as their only option

ByZarafshan Shiraz, New Delhi
Oct 01, 2023 05:50 PM IST

Mental health experts share tips on how to support and rescue a child who sees suicide as their only option

In the alarming landscape of childhood struggles - suicide is the most heart-wrenching and as per the NCRB’s report, 36 students die by suicide every 46 minutes amongst which most of these students are of the age 14 to 24 years. Suicide and suicidal behaviours in the younger generation are emerging as a public health concern across the world and in India too, the prevalence of suicide among adolescents and the youth has been increasing in the past few years due to reasons such as academic stress, bullying, parental pressure and family history of mental health issues.

How to support and rescue a child who sees suicide as their only option (Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash)
How to support and rescue a child who sees suicide as their only option (Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr. Shyam Bhat, Psychiatrist and Chairperson at LiveLoveLaugh (LLL) Foundation, shared, “Studies show that about 50 to 90% of people who die by suicide are also suffering from mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder. Suicide can also occur as an impulsive act during times of great stress. Those who are vulnerable might find it difficult to cope with stress. Stressors like financial problems, medical illnesses or losses can also increase the risk. Loneliness and isolation are also big risk factors. If you're an individual who wants to help others, your compassion and willingness to help others are truly a beacon of hope.”

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If you know someone who might be struggling with suicidal thoughts, he suggested what you can do:

1. Listen with empathy. Sometimes a listening ear can make all the difference. Offer your support without judgement or advice.

2. Let them know you truly care for them.

3. Learn the signs. Educate yourself about warning signs of suicidal thought such as mood changes, withdrawal, or talking about giving up or hopelessness.

4. Encourage them to seek professional help. If you’re concerned, encourage them to speak with a mental health professional and also help them find the right mental health professional. You can even accompany them if that’s what they wish.

Your actions, no matter how small, can make a significant difference in someone's life. Asserting that the role of a compassionate adult cannot be overstated, Parvneet Kaur, Consultant Psychologist at School Mental Health Initiative, GNCTD, United Way in Delhi, advised, “It’s necessary that we as adults, make ourselves aware, look out for signs of distress, recognise vulnerable children, and respond with unwavering support, compassion and empathy. Reports by the IASP (International Association for Suicide Prevention) suggest the same, that compassion and empathy from others help turn things around for vulnerable individuals.”

In the event of crisis situations, she insisted, “Ensure the safety of the child and let them share their feelings, fears, and thoughts without a lingering sense of judgment or offering advice unless asked. A listening ear is the first need of a child who might not have been heard anywhere else. It’s okay not to know what the right thing to say or do. Be present at the moment with the child; ensure they know they are not alone in this struggle and that you are there with them. Make them feel seen, heard, and acknowledged. Once the moment of crisis has been averted, It is vital to act in the best interest of the child and seek guidance from an expert who is trained to deal with the circumstances.”

However today, Not only do we need to focus on measures to avert the crisis at hand but also to turn a page and move towards a path of prevention and care hence, the mental health expert said, “Children have impressionable minds. Words we use, behaviors we model, and standards that we set - create an impact. To ensure our children blossom and grow in safety, we need to make our communities, homes and classrooms mental health-friendly. Having open conversations, destigmatising and having trained counselors or allies in educational institutions can be the first step forward. Our unwavering support can be the lifeline that saves a child’s life and sets them on a path of hope and healing with a promise of better days ahead.”

Prakriti Poddar Global Head, Mental Wellbeing at RoundGlass Living, recommended, “At a personal level, we can reach out to a loved one or a friend who is coping with such negative emotions by checking in on them regularly so that we don’t miss out on the obvious signs of distress such as erratic mood, disturbed sleep, and changes in eating pattern and weight. Parents, especially, need to prioritise the emotional wellbeing of their children and value it as much as their growth milestones. For example, make it a daily ritual to ask your kids how they are doing physically, emotionally and mentally. Parents need to keep the channels of communication open with their children and assure them of their unconditional love and support. This can go a long way in helping children cope with feelings of stress and loneliness.”

At a higher level, she said, “We need to shift the focus from children’s academic performance to their wholistic growth. Parents, teachers, campus administrators and anyone who is a guiding force must motivate the youth to embrace a 360-degree approach to life that includes academics, sports, extracurricular activities, and time for fostering social connections. I strongly believe that both parents and teachers must be sensitized to pick out signs of mental health distress in their children and seek timely medical help.”

According to her, following are a few fundamental practices to follow while supporting a child with mental health issues -

  • Open Communication: Parents and teachers must create a positive environment that fosters conversations and individuality, not comparisons.
  • Foster Connections and Belonging: A major reason behind suicidal thoughts is the feeling of estrangement - not being able to connect with anyone. Parents and teachers need to give students a chance to open up and collaborate to create a sense of belonging.
  • Teach coping skills: Students today start experiencing life’s curveballs from a very young age. There’s a pressing need to prepare them for the hardships of life by teaching them coping skills, such as breathing techniques and self-care. This can equip them to navigate setbacks and failures.

Additionally, let’s leverage the youth’s comfort and familiarity with technology to enable their mental health. Children and youth should be encouraged to use authentic online resources that offer tools and expert guidance on how to live with better mental health and wellbeing.

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