Why kids commit suicide, warning signs and what we can do to help

Why kids commit suicide, warning signs and what we can do to help

In the 10 months of this year, Bangalore has reported six student suicides, all below the age of 22. Even if you considered the fact that India has the highest rate of suicide in the world, six young deaths in such a short time is an alarming number. These are young people living with their families, in set ups that are supposed to be secure environments, living with people who dedicate their lives to protect them and care for them. Teenagers have killed themselves largely for one reason, no matter what the trigger has been, and that reason is that they found it difficult to trust someone in their family to help them in the phase they were going through.

These children have felt a deep sense of mistrust in their parents and other guardians, which is why they have turned to taking their young, tender lives. The 14-year-old boy, who was afraid of heights, and jumped off the terrace of his apartment building because he was being bullied in school, the boy in grade 11 who committed suicide two months ago because he feared his grades were bad or the 20-year-old girl who killed herself because she felt humiliated by her mother. All of them felt they had no one to turn to. All of them were under great, great stress and they reached a breaking point where they felt helpless and another day of torture was just too much to bear.

As someone who actively writes about mental health and suicide, and as someone who has been suicidal in the past, I know exactly what tipped these young children over. Each of us lives from one day to the next because we live on hope. We may not see it or acknowledge it or even recognise it. But when we go to bed and say to ourselves, “I will do this tomorrow,” it is said in hope. Hope that tomorrow you will rise and be able to make things happen, bigger things, better things. I often catch myself thinking, “Tomorrow, I will be a less irritable mother to my children,” before I go to bed. I don’t realise it then but what I am saying is, “Tomorrow, I will be alive, my children will be alive and I will have the space, time, and mental strength to be a better mother to them.” All of these are hopes, because honestly, I don’t know what will happen when I wake up.

When even that basic hope, a hope so quiet and insidious that you don’t even know it’s there, is taken away from you, the best thing you can think of is to never wake up from sleep. All these children who killed themselves did so because they had reached that point where going to school the next day, facing the world was absolutely impossible for them. They had reached a point where they believed their dread and hopelessness were much, much bigger than the pain they would cause their loved ones if they died. And believe me, people who commit suicide definitely think about the ones they leave behind. But their hurt is so great, their self-loathing so deep, that they think their family will be okay, will get over their death.

And this is why, as parents, our duty is to consistently communicate to our children the depth of our love. To continuously connect with our children, to put our phones away and do the things they need us to do. To  look into their eyes when they are talking and listen to what they’re really saying, and not just their words. To understand why they are quiet without them having to tell you, to recognise signs of distress. As mothers, many of us think we know our child instinctively. That’s not always true. That kind of connect comes when you have been watching your child with a whole heart and a present mind, when you have been taking care that everything she or he says is valid, important. When you remember the things they told you. I am guilty of only half paying attention to my kids sometimes, but I have recognised that with practice, it is possible to put my phone away, put my work away and be there for them.

Warning signs that your child might be suicidal and need help:

  • Talking or writing about suicide often — for example, making statements such as "I'm going to kill myself," or "I won't be a problem for you much longer"

  • Withdrawing from social contact

  • Having mood swings

  • Increasing use of alcohol or drugs

  • Feeling trapped or hopeless about a situation

  • Changing normal routine, including eating or sleeping patterns

  • Doing risky or self-destructive things

  • Giving away belongings when there is no other logical explanation for why this is being done

  • Developing personality changes or being severely anxious or agitated when experiencing some of the warning signs listed above

What can YOU do to help your child

  1. Pay attention. It can be hard when you  have everything else to manage but this is your child’s life. Do it. Put everything away and give your child undivided attention.

  2. It doesn’t matter if your child hasn’t attempted suicide yet. If you notice more than three of the above symptoms, approach a therapist and get on a treatment plan.  

  3. State your support. Tell them you will be by them no matter what. And fulfil that promise.

  4. Don’t stress and pass the guilt of it on to your child.