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The Crucial Role of Adults in Youth Suicide Prevention

Young people at risk for suicide can feel trapped, hopeless, and in unbearable pain. They may also believe they are a burden to others, so are unlikely to share these feelings. Adults who see suicide warning signs should reach out to struggling kids -- it could be the difference between life and death.

By Andrew Adler, Ph.D.
Director of Child and Family Therapy

Hong Kong youth, regardless of their background or type of school they attend, experience a tremendous amount of pressure, both academically and socially. The pressure can be so overwhelming that some young people take their lives, a terrible fact we have all seen reported over and over again in Hong Kong’s news.

One year ago, after four completed suicides in five days, a study was commissioned and submitted to the Education Bureau. The study concluded that, among other factors, completed suicides among students were most likely the result of mental health problems, negative attitudes, and stress from both family and school.

Whatever the cause, parents, teachers and other adults can play a crucial role in helping youth at risk for suicide to get the help they need.

One of the most challenging but critical roles for an adult is to identify a young person who may be at risk for suicide. Individuals are less likely to announce that they are having suicidal thoughts or have developed a plan to kill themselves. Instead, there are many possible warning signs:

  • Acting anxious, agitated or reckless
  • Withdrawing or feeling isolated
  • Displaying extreme mood swings.
  • Feeling hopeless, trapped or in unbearable pain
  • Sleeping too little or too much
  • Feeling like a burden to others
  • Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
  • Using of alcohol or drugs

If you believe someone is at risk of suicide, here are some practical steps you can take:

  • Ask if they are thinking about killing themselves. This will NOT put the idea into their heads or make it more likely that they will attempt suicide.
  • If they are considering suicide but do not have a specific plan on how they might do so, arrange for them to see a psychologist, counselor or psychiatrist. Also, remove any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt and closely monitor the person.
  • If they are considering suicide and have a specific plan about how they would act on their thoughts, take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional immediately. Also, remove any objects that could be used in a suicide attempt and do not leave the person alone.

Remember, as a responsible adult, you can provide the critical support to the child, adolescent or young adult — and your actions may be the difference between life and death.