Dubai: Days after a spate of teen suicides shook the UAE, leading psychologists have revealed a shocking rise in suicidal tendencies among teenagers in the UAE.
An 11th grader with discipline issues who threatened to jump from the first floor of a school building, a Class 10 student who shut himself behind locked doors with a rope over poor grades, a prankster who stunned a classroom by scratching his hand with glass, a self-doubting 16-year-old who tried to pop a dozen painkillers – the cases are complex and serious.
“I am seeing such tendencies in around five to 10 per cent of the cases that come to me, with the children having had dangerous thoughts at some point or the other,” said Dubai-based specialist psychologist Dr George J. Kaliaden at Nasser Clinic.
He said there is a tendency to underplay such situations as an attempt to commit suicide has to be duly reported to the police. “Parents tend to play things down because of legal, social and ethical reasons. Self-injury caused by a child for instance may be passed off as an accident, so it’s difficult to pin down an action as an actual attempt to suicide.”
Dr Rory McCarthy, clinical psychologist at the Counselling and Development Clinic, agrees. “As a society there is a tendency to brush things aside. But when a child says she wished she wasn’t born or shows unusual signs, we need to sit up. Such expressions are a desperate cry for help.”
The deeper problem could vary ranging from academic pressure, bullying and lack of communication and social skills to family circumstances and individual concerns like low self-esteem and self-confidence.
Although behavioural issues cut across nationalities, some psychologists said the pressure to conform to stereotypes of what is right is stronger among Indian youth which can lead to problems.
“By the time Indian children reach their teens they have more difficulty being understood than their western counterparts because they are raised to be passive, which is found to be more acceptable. Western children tend to be more open and assertive and freely express themselves,” said Dr Kaliaden.
Stereotypes surrounding academic performance seem to take the biggest toll as the recent suicides have shown. On March 2, a 16-year-old Indian boy hanged himself on the terrace of his Sharjah apartment after failing a science paper. Two weeks earlier, an Indian girl, 18, jumped from a Jumeirah Lake Towers apartment after she was caught cheating in an exam.
“We need to relook our approach to academics in the Indian system. There is too much emphasis on marks. Often the management of a child’s motivation is through pressure and punishment,” said Dr Kaliaden.
Teen life coach Sunaina Vohra said suicides are the last resort for a troubled child. “A child doesn’t just wake up one morning and go out there to commit suicide. There are many factors that lead up to such thoughts.”
Besides academic pressure, psychologists say there are many triggers that act on teenagers. “We deal with cases where bullying, even cyber bullying, plays a big role. Many of them are also under peer pressure,” said Vohra.
The psychologists said teenagers go through one of the most volatile periods of their lives as they experience changes in their bodies and, as a result, in the way they look, think and feel. “So we as parents, teachers and a society need to be sensitive to that.”
They said many expat children tend to be lonely and invariably turn to TV or video games to entertain themselves. “They don’t go out and play, and don’t know how to mix with others, which is not healthy.”
Signs to watch out for vary from outright defiance, disobedience and misconduct to more subtle indicators like timid and withdrawn behaviour, lack of self-confidence and esteem, lack of eye contact and communication, lack of social skills, sudden changes in eating and sleeping patterns, frequent mood swings and bouts of irritation and depression.
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