Suicide among adolescents is one of the most delicate topics. It has the effect of a time bomb that results in emotional devastation for family and friends left behind. But how can we prevent such a shocking event from happening in a family?
The big "bang"
Generally speaking, we can say that adolescence is often a difficult period in life. For many young people, it is a time of discovery, new experiences and questioning. The difficulties experienced by adolescents today can concern the family, relationships, love, sex, self-identity, school and even professional aspects. For some, it is nothing less than a period of loneliness, lack of understanding, emptiness, distress and despair.
Suicide is undoubtedly one of the purest forms of emotional and psychological distress. In a way, it must be approached as a medical emergency, in the sense that rapid assistance must be given to the person contemplating suicide. People who have experienced the suicide of a loved one must often deal with feelings of extreme guilt. They blame themselves for not having recognized the warning signs, not intervening quickly enough, not having understood... Having to live in the aftermath of the suicide of a loved one is so difficult that it is acknowledged that such an experience increases the risk of suicide among those in mourning.
Living through the suicide of one’s child is undoubtedly one of the biggest traumas that a parent can experience. Just thinking about this eventuality is often enough to stir up considerable emotional discomfort.
This text is intended to shed more light on suicide and the measures that may help to prevent it.
It is rarely possible to predict when someone is going to commit suicide; this is why the shock is so great when someone actually does. However, an adolescent may be faced with situations that trigger dark or suicidal thoughts. Below are several examples:
- being a victim of sexual abuse or rape;
- being a victim of intimidation, cyber bullying or violence;
- going through a relationship breakup;
- experiencing rejection or failure;
- dealing with grief, for example, following the death or divorce of parents, etc.;
- having an addiction (e.g.: alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc.);
- suffering from mental illness.
In addition, some personality traits may predispose an adolescent to suicide, such as:
- having low self-esteem;
- being afraid of failure;
- being a loner;
- being excessively shy;
- being impulsive;
- have strong emotions.
Statistics show that suicide is more prevalent among boys than among girls.
Recognizing early warning signs
Sometimes an adolescent’s attitude or behaviour can suggest suicidal tendencies, for example if they:
- are giving away or offering gifts of things they treasure;
- are no longer interested in the things/activities they liked ordinarily;
- they isolate themselves;
- they neglect their personal hygiene;
- they seem overly happy or calm following a recent sad or depressed stage;
- they begin speaking in a self-deprecating or defeatist manner;
- they take an interest in death or suicide, or idealize them.
Certain phrases or voice opinions may also give you a clue as to their intentions:
- “I’d like to go on a long trip...”
- “You’d be a lot better off without me...”
- “Life just isn’t worth living...”
- “I’m fed up with everything...”
- “It’ll be a lot quieter around here soon...”
- “I wish I could be with so and so (who is deceased)...”
Of course, your child may display similar behaviour or attitudes, or say similar things without having any intention of committing suicide!
A few tips on prevention
Nobody can claim to understand the miracle recipe for preventing the suicide of a loved one. However, here are a few tips that we hope you will find useful.
- Encourage your teen any time you can. Don’t discourage them. Adolescents often react badly to criticism, and even more so to being devalorized.
- Accept your teen as he or she is, regardless of their weaknesses, sexual orientation, habits and tastes. Show them that you love them and are proud of them.
- Keep a watchful eye on your teen and their behaviour. Denial can be an easy step, but not the best choice to help prevent suicide.
- Spend quality time with your teen. Help them discover your passions and activities that you enjoy, and take an interest in theirs.
- Take all complaints, threats and allusions pertaining to suicide very seriously. The widespread belief that someone who talks about it does not do it often turns out to be false.
- Discuss suicide frankly and openly with your adolescent, especially if you feel they may be at risk. Share your concerns and encourage them to express their ideas and emotions.
- Listen to your teen, not only during difficult times, but also when everything is going fine. Strengthening emotional ties with them will help you to better discern the warning signs and be seen as an ally.
- If you yourself are a teen and fear that one of your friends is going to commit suicide, speak about it immediately with a trusted adult.
- Contact an organization that helps people with suicidal tendencies and their families (SOS Suicide Jeunesse, Suicide Action Montréal, Association québécoise de prévention du suicide, etc.). Ask about all the resources available.
- If you believe your teen could have suicidal ideas or behaviour, speak with a doctor immediately. You can even get in touch with the emergency department.
Suicide disrupts the human spirit, because it violates a fundamental value: the sacredness of human life. A complex phenomenon with multiple ramifications, it is the subject of much deliberation. For your part, you can immediately begin to think about the means you can adopt to ensure your teen grows up with confidence and peace, while heading towards the prospect of a bright future, and not into the ultimate dark abyss. If we hold life precious, then surely the life of our adolescent is more precious than anything. You can help them cling to life during the most difficult times. Your love, listening skills, foresight and support can make all the difference!