The idea that a young person could ever choose to take their own life may be a thought most parents or adults could not fathom – a thought that would be easier pushed away.
However suicide remains to be the leading cause of death amongst youths aged 10 to 29. In 2018, 94 of these youths chose to end their own lives in Singapore.
What does it look like?
Many people exclaim that there are no observable signs to indicate that someone may not be coping well or thinking about suicide. More often than not, there are distinct observable behaviour. Some common experience may be:
- The constant feeling of being easily irritable, sad, or angry
- Extremely sensitive to being emotional (i.e. crying)
- Losing interest in activities you used to loved
- Feelings of worthlessness, helplessness, hopelessness or guilt
- Sleeping or eating too much or too little
- Turning to alcohol and/or substance use
Most suicides are preceded by warning signs. While some suicide occur without any obvious warning, it is important to be aware and understand what the warning signs of suicide are, and look out for them. Here are some suicide warning signs to look out for.
What usually happens when I sense something amiss?
When adults and parents sense that a young person may be not quite their usual self, it is normal that they ask “What’s wrong?”, “What happened?”, and the like.
The discrepancy between the intended message communicated by an adult and a young person’s impression often leads to misunderstanding. It can be difficult for any young person to imagine how adults and parents can ever understand or help - especially when their past experiences may have always been nagged at or being chided at because of their behaviour.
When “Nothing.” is the answer to every “What happened?”, or a “You’ll never understand.” is the response to “Tell me what’s wrong.”, the feeling of despair and sometimes frustration can get really intense. Afterall, a conversation is only possible between two willing parties.
It is not easy to verbalise what is really going on or even expect someone to really understand what is weighing you down. It is a difficult thing to understand if you have never experienced what it is like to be living in a dark abyss.
However the truth is most parents hate to see their child hurting, especially when they neither understand what is going on nor know how to help. They may become frustrated which may in turn create more tension. This commonly leads to more arguments and leaving the young person to be in a state of heightened anxiety or have thoughts that exacerbates feelings of worthlessness such as “I’m the cause of all these unhappiness.”
What can I do to support?
The feeling of fear and uncertainty when one broaches the subject of suicide to anyone can be exceptionally difficult - sometimes even more so when it comes to a young person.
What we say conveys different messages. Instead of “You look down, why you think so much, it will be OK.” try “You seem like you’re down recently. Let’s see how we can get through this together.”. The purpose is to encourage an open conversation to better understand what’s going on.
However, it is in all of us to have the need for answers and to give advice. In this instance, we need to listen attentively and be supportive. Listening and responding in a non-judgemental manner helps reassure that you will be there to support - and that helps a lot.
Be that moral support
Sometimes a young person may be uncertain of what they are going through. It is important at this point to urge them to get help. The journey to asking for help and recovery can be a scary one - so do offer to accompany and go along with them if possible. Your presence might help to give them strength and reassures them that they are not alone in this journey.
Always recognise that help-seeking is not a sign of weakness. Instead, it is a sign of strength and courage.
Know where help is
Supporting someone can be difficult - they may do or say things that hurt you. Know that they are going through a very difficult time and try not to take it personally. However, it is essential that you have your own support network of family and friends. Your well-being is equally as important.
It is essential to be aware of who else may be able to help - it can be a parent, a trusted adult, a teacher, counsellors, or even local helplines and organisations. For some local resources, please see here.
Understand what’s going on
It is not easy to understand what it really feels like battling with intrusive thoughts, especially when we have never been in their shoes. However, we can be better aware that these thoughts and the feeling of a loss of control is never a personal choice; nor can they just "snap out of".
No one should have to suffer in silence. We call all play a small part by embracing the fact that struggles with mental health is real and not a personal flaw.
Together, we can create more safe spaces and encourage more people to openly talk about their struggles without having to feel less than a person.
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