Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: Three teenage suicides in the last two months in Dubai and the northern emirates have sent alarm bells ringing for all – parents, teachers and students. The tragedies make us ask many questions: Are we pushing our teens too hard? Are school pressures too high? Are parents becoming perfectionists who expect nothing but the best from their children? Or, is it that today’s teenagers are brought up to be emotionally too fragile?

Worldwide too, suicide has been identified as the third leading cause of death between the age of 10-24. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), almost a million suicides take place annually around the world, of which nearly 200,000 occur among youngsters in the 15-25 age group. And the incidence of suicide among males is four times higher than for females.

Gulf News approached Mohammad Tahir, child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist and medical director at Health-Call, DHCC, Dubai, to throw light on what is driving teens in the UAE to take their own lives.

“Dubai is a developed world and it has a highly competitive atmosphere for both parents and children. Children have to compete with multicultural and multinational students and the challenges are varied. Parents have to work hard to provide a luxurious lifestyle for their children. So, quality time is virtually not available to families,” says Tahir. “The teens here, therefore, can end up being at a loose end, fending for themselves and, as a result, often veer into wrong directions, such as substance abuse and seeking out wrong friends. In the process, they get alienated from their family.”

Tahir also believes that the present times have a great impact on young minds. “Our world is rapidly changing,” he says. “Teenagers spend a lot of time on social media and connect with their peers worldwide and so they compare their condition with the rest of the world.” As a result of this comparison, they can react negatively to criticism by the community, parents or teachers.

However, among those teenagers who tend to have extreme reactions, some can possess the intention to harm themselves and a minor percentage actually develops the intent to kill themselves. “Those who have the intent to kill themselves are the ones to be watched,” says Tahir.

He highlights three types of teen mindsets:

Copycats: these are youngsters in search of glory and glamorise another suicide by someone in their age group and see it as a way of deliverance.

Escapists: youngsters who have so much mental anguish that the physical pain of taking their lives seems an attractive option to end the mental torture.

Teenagers with mood disorders : if your teenage son or daughter frequently oscillates between episodes of rage, hysteria and euphoria, he or she might be at risk.

Teenagers with emotional baggage: Children from broken homes or homes that have a family history of violence and abuse are vulnerable to emotional pressures.


So, what are the signs parents need to look out for in teens who are extremely sensitive?

1. Sudden disinterest in activities. If your teenage child refuses to socialise with friends, plays no physical games and suddenly shows complete lack of engagement in any activities which he previously enjoyed. If he is praised for an achievement and shrugs his shoulders saying, ‘I don’t care’.

2. Withdrawal: refuses to be drawn into conversations at home or school and prefers to keep his emotions to himself.

3. Refuses to change his clothes, shoes or take a bath, etc, displaying a disinterest in routine activities.

4. If, suddenly, he is giving away objects — toys, gadgets or books — that were previously dear to him.

5. His school grades have been falling.

6. Change in sleeping patterns – he is up until late and prefers to sleep during the day at home or school.

7. Is eating less.

8. Frequently complaints of headaches, bellyaches, etc.

9. If he gets into a risk-taking activity like crossing road at the wrong time, or leaning out of the window or indulges in any kind of impulsive behaviour

10. Verbalisation of suicides should be taken very seriously. If a child expresses a death wish or says he wants to end his life, a parent needs to sit him down and talk to him.

11. If he gets into saying things such as, ‘I will not trouble you any more’ or ‘I want you to know something in case something happens to me’ these statements should be taken seriously and his state of mind attended to.


Importance of making eye contact

Whenever an adolescent comes back home, it is important for parents to spend a minimum of five minutes exclusively with him. “It is also important to have eye contact with your child, look at his face and detect any negative emotions. if at all, that have accrued from his period spent outside the home,” says Tahir. “Children usually have transparent faces and their eyes and body language can tell you a lot of what they are going through. If a teenager’s clothing is dishevelled or unkempt and he is not walking with his usual gait, there could be an underlying issue. Get the child to relate to you instantly so that he can download his problems. Family dinners are a must and parents and children must share a meal together as this makes for great bonding time.”



Prevention strategies

1. Identify the young man or woman at risk. In this, all stakeholders — parents, counsellors and school teachers have a role to play. They need to communicate on a regular basis so that the moment something is amiss, they are able to detect and address it. Parents have to play a more proactive role in keeping the communication channels open.

2. Educational programmes on mental health need to be organised for both parents and students to understand the dynamics of depression and what needs to be done.

3. Substance abuse problems need to be addressed.

4. Parents must develop coping skill to deal with such situations. They should be more accessible and available to their children, consult psychologists if need be and give their children hope and an understanding of their future.