The recent spate of child suicides has prompted urgency in identifying the underlying causes. We often do not suspect our young to exhibit child suicidal tendencies. The playfulness they exhibit often mask the hidden turmoil within. Poor academic performance and the inability to cope with life can make the young susceptible to stress. To spot child suicidal tendencies requires diligence. Children do have greater difficulty than adults in expressing unhappiness.
More often that not they will bury their feelings and shy away from talking about their worries. This can inculcate the feelings of despondence which may eventually lead to child suicidal notions. Parents can be pro-active in identifying the signs that their children are harbouring suicidal thoughts. This is vital so that they can reach out to their children before anything untoward happens.
Spotting Child Suicidal Tendencies
The following behaviours are often a precursor to depressive symptoms:
- Social withdrawal, which typically manifests in the child’s not wanting to participate in activities he or she once enjoyed.
- Showing Interest in death.
- Lapses in personal hygiene.
- Sudden, unexpected change in personality.
- Oppositional behaviour (e.g., running away from home, declining grades at school).
- Sleep disturbances.
As a child feels more depressed, he or she tends to show degrees of isolation. They may gradually withdraw from friendships, social commitments, and extracurricular activities. If you notice your child withdrawing from these day to day functions, this could be an indication of suicidal thoughts.
Showing Interest In Death
Children who are curious about death is a cause for concern. Furthermore negative comments about life should be viewed seriously. The child may already be thinking about suicide at this point as they seek for something better than the status quo.
Lapses in Personal Hygiene
If you spot sudden changes in appearances such as unkept hair or overall sloppiness, start monitoring your child. The glaring neglect about their appearance which weren’t present before suggests a growing hopelessness. Start talking to your child about what’s troubling them.
Sudden, unexpected change in personality
Often leading to suicide, children may exhibit a change in mood from being very sad to a general calmness. In some cases they may appear happy and this is actually a red flag. The calmness is due to the child’s conviction that they are resigned to going through with the act of suicide.
The 11-year-old boy, who fell 17 floors from his bedroom window recently was actually fearful of his declining grades. He had actually painted a picture that he was doing well in his exams. In reality he was afraid of revealing his poor grades to his parents. While this will be hard to spot even for discerning parents, this form of behaviour bears the classic signs of suicide.
If you notice a child not getting enough sleep, there may be something amiss in their life. The pre-occupation with suicide might be keeping them awake at night. As the child wrestles with finding the courage to go through with the deed, their minds are in a state of unrest. It leads to bouts of restlessness which affects their sleep patterns.
Help For Parents
If parents suspect their child is a suicide risk, it’s advisable to seek help immediately from trusted professionals. Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) is the only suicide prevention centre in Singapore. SOS provides 24-hour confidential emotional support to people who have difficulty coping during a crisis. Call the 24-hour hotline (1800-221 4444) and trained volunteers will be on hand to offer assistance.
Tinkle Friend is a national toll free helpline (1800-2744-788) and chatline for all primary-school-aged children in Singapore. Tinkle Friend provides support, advice, and information to lonely and distressed children, especially in situations when their parents or main caregivers are unavailable.
Care Corner Counselling Centre provides a toll-free service (1800-3535-800) which is operational seven days a week, from 10 am to 10 pm (it is closed on public holidays). Manned by trained volunteers, Mandarin-speaking callers can share their problems in total anonymity and strict confidentiality. The centre is committed to providing professional services that promote the well-being of families.
Ultimately parents will have to make time to listen to their children despite their busy schedule. Research indicates that a strong parent-child bond is one of the most effective preventive measures against suicidal behaviour. A supportive family structure might just be a solid preventive measure in preventing child suicide.
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