Suicidal talk is not teenage drama: 5 ways to tackle destructive thoughts

Mental Health Awareness India: Parents must keep communication doors open, be positive and non-judgmental, listen and express support, care, love while acknowledging their thoughts and their challenges.

By Ajeeta Mulye

Mental Health Awareness: Adolescence is an important transitional as well as turbulent stage where the young experience many changes physically, cognitively, socially, emotionally and behaviourally. These phases come with their challenges and pressures, leading to extreme distress. Control over judgment, coping skills and critical thinking are still developing at this stage, due to which adolescents seem to be impulsive, vulnerable to high intensity emotions, opting for quick solutions. Hence, thinking about suicide is not uncommon. In fact, research says that suicide is among top three reasons for adolescence death.

It is important to understand that when adolescents get suicidal thoughts, they don’t always want to die. At times, the thought is more a reflection of their feelings of hopelessness, lack of control or struggle to cope with the distress and wanting to end the suffering and pain they are going through. Also, suffering from a psychological disorder or consuming unhealthy substances can lead to having suicidal thoughts. These do not always lead to a suicide attempt, but definitely increase the risk. Hence, never take suicidal talk as attention seeking behaviour or teenage drama. Helping your adolescence to deal with these thoughts is important.

Here are 5 ways to tackle suicidal thoughts:

1. Open communication

Parents must keep communication doors open, be positive and non-judgmental, listen and express support, care, love while acknowledging their thoughts and their challenges. Educate them that all thoughts are free-floating and not permanent. Acting on temporary thoughts can lead to permanent damage. Also, thoughts stay till we give them importance and permission to stay. Hence, let them know that a thought is just like many other thoughts they may have. They don’t need to act on it.

2. Provide alternatives to act upon

Let the adolescent know that suicide is not the solution to any problem and that they can confide in someone from their trust circle. Also, provide suicide prevention helpline numbers so they know who they can talk to if they get a destructive urge. Providing emotional support will allow them to see that it’s possible to cope with distress.

3. Push away

Set a time for future thinking about suicide to help push suicidal thoughts away to another time, by when high intensity emotions will be settled, reducing the risk of acting upon them.

4. Teaching skills

Learning distress tolerance skills such as meditation, exercise and learning to be their own cheerleader, by reminding oneself that it’s a temporary situation/thought/feeling. Engage them in calming activities, colouring or dancing. They can also learn to self-soothe using the five senses, for instance, taking a hot bath, smelling scented candles, eating favourite foods, listening to favourite music and watching a movie. Write down these options as a coping card, which they can carry any and everywhere.

5. Seeking expert help

Encourage seeking therapy from professionals like psychologist on a regular basis to deal with suicide thoughts/ distress as well as treat the underlying psychological disorder, if any. Taking psychiatric consultation as an aid will be helpful too.

Make safety a top priority by checking their access to dangerous objects or chemicals, which they can use to attempt suicide and limit those means. Parents or loved ones must remain vigilant for warning signs. Don’t let the temporary distress end your journey, but find ways to overcome them.

Also Read| A child’s mental wellbeing should be top priority for parents

(The writer is Psychologist & Outreach Associate, Mpower – The Foundation.)

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