Parents can be first line of defence against teen suicide

Empowering parents to watch out for warning signs of suicide can be helpful in reducing teenage suicide risk ("Teen suicides 'highest in 15 years but overall rate falls' "; last Tuesday).

People tend to associate suicide risk with visible adverse life events such as the death of a loved one or debilitating illness. More often than not, teenagers who are contemplating suicide can appear very normal - unless one pays closer attention.

The emotional warning signs of suicide risk can include increased anger, irritability, moodiness, boredom, hopelessness and low self-esteem.

Behavioural warning signs may come in the form of reckless or self-destructive acts; loss of interest in school, sports and hobbies; decreased personal hygiene; changes in eating or sleeping habits; talk about death and suicide; and isolation from people.

Sometimes, even rebelliousness may be an external expression of an internal pain or struggle.

If parents suspect a suicide risk in their teenager, it is advisable to seek help immediately from a trusted help professional, while closely monitoring the teen's emotional state and physical whereabouts.

Demonstrating love in the form of physical touch, like a hug, can help their teen to feel assured.

Above all, remain calm and positive.

Research indicates that a sense of parent-family connectedness is one of the most effective preventive measures against suicidal behaviour among young people.

A safe and open environment at home would encourage children to communicate their thoughts and feelings, allowing their concerns and struggles to be raised.

Show them that they are loved and valued - regardless of their performance or behaviour - and show them how to handle stress in a healthy manner.

Avoid being overly demanding or reactive, lest it breeds excessive self-criticism, which might result in a higher risk of anxiety or depression ("Kids of pushy parents 'face higher risk of depression' " ; June 22). Affirm teenagers in their unique talents and strengths, and cheer them on to pursue their own passions in areas other than just academic.

If parents are given help to recognise and address the early warning signs of suicide in their teenagers, they can be an effective first line of defence against teenage suicide.

Larry Lai

Principal Counsellor

Focus on the Family Singapore

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2016, with the headline 'Parents can be first line of defence against teen suicide'. Print Edition | Subscribe