Teenage is a time of chaos that arises from the discipline of childhood and matures into the order of adulthood. This metamorphosis is as intimidating and turbulent as finding yourself transformed into a cockroach in your bed. Among these natural and obvious challenges, modern times see a tremendous rise in teen suicide rates and it is a growing global concern.
Teen suicides are generally layered by personal & political paradigms, social & individual aspects, psychological as well as sociological factors. According to multiple studies (eg: Kim and Singh, 2004), teen suicides, in particular, varied significantly between developed and developing nations due to several socio-political and economic factors.
Majority of the data on teen suicides (CDC, NCRB) points to the fact that suicide rates among men are significantly higher than that of women in most places. This indicates that gender identity plays a significant role in luring teenagers into suicidality when they are facing the crisis of identity v/s role confusion. One could also read this as a direct outcome of the oppression of men in contemporary society. The data also indicates that more attempts are usually made by girls while more deaths due to suicide are reported among boys – which is an indication of type of aggression (indirect v/s direct) with which the sexes are generally predisposed.
Many factors such as depression, substance abuse, anxiety, abuse of different forms, family issues have been associated with teen suicides. Bullying has been reported to be a major factor associated with teen suicides. Parental pressure was also found to be a significant stress factor (Inbanavan et al, 2014). According to the Government of India (NCRB, 2014), ‘Other Family Problems’ and ‘Illness’ were the major causes of suicides among teenagers. Other causes, which are usually overhyped around teen suicides, such as love failure, unemployment or failure in exams were counterintuitively minimal in prompting teenagers to commit suicide.
Perpetuating factors include the various sets of attitudes specific to suicide and death. In many societies, including that of India, an implicit glorification of suicide as a means to protect honor is persistent. This is detrimental to the efforts to tackle the rising suicide rates. Another factor often cited is the influence of Eastern religion where death is considered as a part of the journey rather as an end. Though the effects of these studies are possibilities speculated in academic circles, further studies are required to validate or disprove it.
Many nations across the globe, including India have made notable legal and non-legal efforts to bring down the suicide rates. Some of the major legislative measures that stress on adolescent mental health and well-being, in particular, include the National Youth Policy (NYP), 2014; National Mental Health Policy (NMHP), 2014; National Mental Healthcare Act (MHA), 2017; and Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK; National Adolescent Health Program, 2014) among others. A comprehensive review of these policies found several shortcomings including ill-defined age range, inability to recognize vulnerable groups and implementing challenges such as scanty budget and insufficient human resources.
In spite of such efforts, even after a decade, suicide rates continue to rise at exponential rates. Leo Sher (2012) identified 5 major reasons for this. They are:
● Clinicians underestimating teen suicide prevalence.
● Belief that direct questioning will reveal suicide ideation.
● Belief that adolescents with non-psychiatric illnesses won’t be suicidal.
● Underestimating role of contagion.
● Prevalence of belief that adolescent males commit less number of suicides than women.
These findings suggest how the awareness programs are inadequate even in the professional circles. A recent report suggested that though mental health promotion campaigns actively promote people to seek mental health services when they feel low or suicidal, it is rather ironic that therapists are rarely trained in interventions for suicide prevention. This inconsistency within the system is a major hindrance to our progress in effectively reducing the suicide rates.
The need of the hour is to rethink our approach towards understanding teen suicides. A holistic, integrated conceptualization, backed up by thoroughly researched intervention can lead to implementation of better steps to prevent suicides. Actively involving the youth in the execution and development of the plan would also prove to be effective. Today’s teenagers will soon become adults. They must be taught to hold on and endure, for tomorrow is another day.