Gender Gender

Preventing adolescent suicide

Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
WE ARE in the Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, albeit in this very month, I have heard of two cases of suicide by adolescents in Lusaka alone.
The latest of the two cases, which happened in Bauleni Township last week, is similar to other suicide cases involving youngsters.
In this case, a 17-year-old boy took his life in his parents’ house after his mother allegedly chided him for wrongdoing. The boy, who was in Grade 11 at Nyumba Yanga Secondary School, reportedly didn’t like his mother’s demeanour and what she said to him, and therefore he over-reacted by taking his life.
Information suggests that the boy left a suicide note in which he expressed displeasure at the way his mother allegedly talked to him. His distraught mother was inconsolable when she woke up the following morning only to learn that her beloved son had taken his life while they slept.
Of course, she was blaming herself for her son’s death. She cursed herself for the well-meant and normal parental role of rebuking and correcting one’s child for wrongdoing.
Attempts by friends and relatives to assure and re-assure her that she did nothing wrong for her son to pay her back in the manner that he did, only seemed to add salt to the wound of the grief-stricken mother.
The predicament that this mother is in is similar to the situations that many other parents have found themselves in. I am referring to situations where a parent innocently gives a naughty child their ‘piece of mind’; the child feels vilified and commits the unimaginable act.
“These children…, what has gone wrong with them? Does it mean that they don’t want us to reprimand them when they have done wrong?” a friend of mine moaned sometime back after a mutual friend of ours lost a son who was in university in similar fashion.
My response to my friend was that of course parents and guardians can’t stop guiding children and disciplining them when they err.
Perhaps we just need to be cautious with our tone, choice of words and the type of disciplinary action we enforce on immature people in the age group 10 to 24 because sometimes they tend to act on the spur-of-the -moment.
International statistics indicate that suicide is one of the major causes of preventable deaths in people aged 10 to 24.
The young man my friend and I were discussing was only a year away from graduating at Mulungushi University when he took his life after being reproached for wrong behaviour by his parents.
The family did not spare any resources for this lad’s education, but sadly he did not live to see the day of his graduation.
And the reason is simply that his parents scolded him for bad behaviour and urged him to mend his ways.
Honestly, who wouldn’t do that to their beloved child if they see them taking the wrong turn in life?
I am sure most of us have our own stories to tell about how our parents would chastise us – sometimes in a friendly way and other times harshly.
A lot of people actually only appreciate in adulthood that what seemed like harsh correction by parents is what helped them to become responsible citizens.
Nevertheless when a child is contemplating suicide, they may not appreciate it when parents ‘crack the whip’ because they have already given up on life.
The tricky part for many parents is to identify a potential suicide case because depression, a condition cited as the major cause of suicide, does not always show.
However, depression is easier to detect in children than in adults. Depressed adolescents will present mood swings; they will opt to isolate themselves from other people; they present poor appetite; they will withdraw from participating in class activities, and for others, their class performance will suddenly become bad and may continue deteriorating.
These are some of the signs of depression that parents and teachers need to look out for and refer affected children for counselling before it is too late.
What I’m driving at is that suicide is preventable and parents as well as teachers need not gloss over sudden behavioural changes in children.
For example, if a bubbly and social child suddenly becomes unhappy and withdraws from interacting with siblings and relatives at home, or friends at school, this calls for concern.
Such cases need to be investigated and where need be, the child should be counselled.
Children, being immature people, tend to overact on issues, so it is the duty of parents and guardians to help them make good decisions that will shape their future.
I know for a fact that some cases of suicide are unforeseen. But where danger signs become obvious, it is better to act and save a life than ignore and regret later.
For example, some children and adults will make several threats about taking their lives before they could actually do it.
An Evelyn Hone College first-year student who took his life on September 10, 2019, had made several threats before killing himself.
As a matter of fact, his friends in college who knew about his threats even alerted his family.
It is reported that the young man’s sister reacted with anger, daring him to go ahead and kill himself, and that they would mourn and bury him.
Obviously the sister did not mean what she said, neither did she think her brother would one day make his death happen.
Sadly the young man, aged 23, later took his life on September 10, which was Suicide Prevention Awareness Day. His colleagues in college weren’t sure why he had been threatening to take his life.
Some though were speculating that he must have been depressed about dropping out at the University of Zambia (UNZA) where he was initially studying before enrolling at Evelyn Hone College.
The lesson I drew from his case is that people who threaten to take their lives should not be dismissed as mere attention seekers.
We should neither mock them nor dare them to actualise their threats, because depression is a mental sickness and the behaviour of depressed persons could be unpredictable.
Any person who threatens suicide should be referred for counselling, who knows you may just save a life.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) actually indicates that people who are bent on taking their lives will make a threat before acting. WHO says for each case of suicide, there are more than 20 suicide attempts. It further says that 800,000 people die by suicide every year.
“Suicides are preventable. Much can be done to prevent suicide at individual, community and national levels,” says WHO.
We all can play a part in preventing depression, if we all can play our role as parents, friends, neighbours, teachers, workmates, health care providers, teachers, pastors and government officials.
Email: emeldashonga@yahoo.com/eshonga@daily-mail.co.zm. Phone: 0211-221364/227793

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