Suicide is the second leading cause of death in youths. According to Jason Foundation, more teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, combined. It’s a huge epidemic and it’s more important than ever that work is actively done to curb suicide in youths.
Research shows that Four out of Five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs —this means that preventing suicide is not impossible, we just need to be more deliberate about recognizing the signs and broaching the topic in a non-confrontational way.
Here are some ways to prevent suicide:
If the reality that ‘it’s okay to not be okay’ is normalized and treated as urgently as physical injuries are, people would speak up about their struggles and actively seek help.
1. Destigmatize Mental Illness
One of the common reasons why so many young people commit suicide is because they feel alone, isolated, ashamed, and misunderstood. Talking openly about mental illness is considered a taboo in most communities. When it comes to issues like depression, most people would rather you didn’t talk about it and if you do, you’re considered an attention seeker, or being overly dramatic or being a mood killer. These toxic societal norms make it difficult for young people in the suicidal ideation stage to talk about their struggles. If the reality that ‘it’s okay to not be okay’ is normalized and treated as urgently as physical injuries are, people would speak up about their struggles and actively seek help.
To empathize is to put yourself in another person’s shoes to fully experience and understand their struggles. When you empathize with a person with suicidal thoughts, you are able to see things almost exactly as they see it and this allows you to help them in a more meaningful and impactful way. Your ability to empathize with them also gives them the feeling of being seen and heard — two very important factors for someone with suicidal thoughts. Knowing they are loved and understood goes a very long way in helping them overcome suicidal impulses.
3. Open Door Policy
This point is mostly directed at schools and parents. Open door policy is a system that fosters communication and builds trust between authority figures and youths. It’s very important that schools and parents create environments that are safe and non-judgemental for their kids. This way, when a young person begins to have suicidal thoughts, they would not hesitate to talk to their parents, teachers, or guidance counselors.
Listening is of great importance. A lot of times, when individuals struggling with mental illnesses open up, they just want a listening ear and not a barrage of unsolicited advice. When a young person with suicidal thoughts talks to you about feeling hopeless and tired, as tempting as it can be to offer advice like ‘you should exercise more’ or ‘have you tried yoga? It’s very freeing’. Though well-meaning, advice like that can be alienating for the individual and reinforce already existing notions of being misunderstood. It’s better to listen and ask meaningful questions that show you are paying attention.
5. Be observant
A lot of times people will bottle their struggles up instead of talking about it. A great way to spot a person at risk before a critical moment is to be observant. Often times, when young people start having with suicidal thoughts, it starts to reflect on their behavior and mannerisms — they may stop taking care of themselves; they may become withdrawn; they may gain weight or lose weight suddenly; their grades may start slipping and so on. Once you notice behaviors like those mentioned above, as a teacher, counselor, or parent, it is important to invite the youth for a talk while remembering to be non-judgemental, to listen, and empathize. As a friend, you should notify trusted adults immediately. Do not be inclined to promise them that you would not tell anyone.
This last point — although not widely popular in this part of the world — is a very effective method of preventing suicide. Therapy provides a structured safe environment for individuals struggling with their mental health. Therapists give actionable advice that can help overcome mental illnesses like anxiety and depression and if needed, the services of a licensed personnel who would prescribe drugs to help them feel and function better.
— Oluwafikayo Odugbemi