Tips To Prevent Suicidal Thoughts, Beat Stress This Exam Season

 - Sakshi Post

By Prof V. Sherin Bovas

We must give youngsters -- and their parents -- the life skills to know that, “marks are not everything in life. You deserve the help that you need to feel better — so please don’t give up.” Parents have big expectations and give undue importance to exams and for children, the marks are benchmarks of their self-esteem. The combination can be fatal. There are several reasons as to how failure in examinations amounts to suicides in the country. It includes exam season, parental pressure, and expectations to get high marks and into a top university for the golden chance of a high-paying job, as well as largely unaddressed mental health issues. Students were more frightened of exams than accidents, earthquakes, or bomb attacks.

Possible Causes of Suicide

Researchers don’t know exactly why some people develop suicidal thoughts. They suspect that genetics may offer some clues. A higher incidence of suicidal thoughts has been found among people with a family history of suicide. But studies haven’t yet confirmed a genetic link. “Memory pills” are devoured, nutritionists are consulted for the best “brain food” and newspapers devote sections to tackling exams. 

“We must make exams in such a way it does not bank on memory but emphasises thinking capability”

Failure in Examinations is such a prevalent cause of student suicide in India, Teenage suicide (over exams) is a national disaster. Employment opportunities seem scarce; the growing workforce in India is filled with increasingly stressed and mentally pressured individuals. Competition to get into higher education in the country of more than 1.5 billion people is fierce with stratospheric averages needed to obtain the few places available in India’s “Ivy League” colleges. The cut-off average mark to pursue an undergraduate degree in commerce at any of the top University’s top last year was 97.8 per cent just imagine for a medicine seat in a top medical college let alone for an engineering seat in a premier technology institute in the country. To comfort students, the Indian government has started counselling centres at many IIT premises around the country. However, such remedial measures have only been taken up by premier institutes of the country and other universities in smaller cities and towns are still much behind in addressing the mental health problem.

Newspapers carry tragic daily reports of youngsters who have killed themselves or taken what Indians euphemistically call “the extreme step” because they fear the shame of a bad report card. The girls’ rate is higher because many fears being married off if they flunk, experts say. Educators criticise the exams for stressing memory work over reasoning. Many people experience thoughts of suicide at some point in their lives. If you’re having suicidal thoughts, know that you’re not alone. You should also know that feeling suicidal isn’t a character flaw, and it doesn’t mean you’re crazy or weak. It only signifies that you’re experiencing more pain or sadness than you can cope with right now. Another common trigger for suicidal thoughts is the feeling of being isolated or not being accepted by others. Feelings of isolation can be caused by sexual orientation, religious beliefs, and gender identity. These feelings often become worse when there’s a lack of help or social support. At the moment, it may seem as though your unhappiness will never end. But it’s important to realize that with help, you can overcome suicidal feelings. Remember that problems are temporary, but suicide is permanent. Taking your own life is never the right solution to any challenge you may be facing. Give yourself time for the circumstances to change and for the pain to subside.

“Somehow we think high marks are the only way our children are going to succeed in life”

The Effect of Suicide on Loved Ones

Suicide takes a toll on everyone in the victim’s life, with aftershocks being felt for many years. Guilt and anger are common emotions, as loved ones often wonder what they might have done to help. These feelings may plague them for the rest of their lives. Even though you may feel alone right now, know that many people can support you during this challenging time. Whether it’s a close friend, family member, or doctor, talk to someone you trust. This person should be willing to listen to you with compassion and acceptance. If you don’t feel like talking about your problems with someone you know, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. All calls are anonymous and there are always counsellors available.

Stay hopeful

No matter how bad your situation may seem, know that there are ways of dealing with the issues you face. Many people have experienced suicidal thoughts and survived, only to be very thankful later. There is a good chance that you’re going to live through your suicidal feelings, no matter how much pain you may be experiencing right now. Give yourself the time you need and don’t try to go it alone. Schedule daily activities. Activities that brought you small pleasure in the past can make a difference — such as listening to music, watching a funny movie or visiting a museum. Or try something different. Because physical activity and exercise may reduce depression symptoms, consider walking, jogging, swimming, gardening, or a new activity. No matter what your situation, some people need you, places where you can make a difference, and experiences that can remind you that life is worth living. It takes real courage to face death and step back from the brink. You can use that courage to face life, to learn coping skills for overcoming depression, and for finding the strength to keep going. 

Points to Remember:

  • Your emotions are not fixed—they are constantly changing. How you feel today may not be the same as how you felt yesterday or how you’ll feel tomorrow or next week. Your absence would create grief and anguish in the lives of friends and loved ones.
  • There are many things you can still accomplish in your life.
  • There are sights, sounds, and experiences in life that can delight and lift you - and that you would miss.
  • Your ability to experience pleasurable emotions is equal to your ability to experience distressing emotions.

Talk to someone

You should never try to manage suicidal feelings on your own. Professional help and support from loved ones can make it easier to overcome any challenges that are causing suicidal thoughts. There are also numerous organizations and support groups that can help you cope with suicidal feelings. They may even help you recognize that suicide isn’t the right way to deal with stressful life events.

Talk to your parents directly!

Try having a vulnerable conversation when they feel misunderstood! Sometimes it takes more than one conversation to get someone to understand what we’re feeling and what we need from them.

Hold your own.

  • You don’t have to disclose anything to your parents that you aren’t comfortable sharing.
  • If you aren’t feeling safe enough to open up, it’s okay to simply reiterate what you need from them.
  • Sometimes parents mistakenly believe that teens will “grow out of” depression when that isn’t true. It can be helpful to explain to your parents the impact that your depression is having on you.
  • It can be difficult to open up to your parents, but it is the surest way to help them better grasp what you’re going through.
  • Mom, it’s been very hard to keep my grades up in school because I’ve been feeling so hopeless all the time. That’s why I want to talk to someone and get some extra support.
  • Dad, I know I seem tough on the outside, but sometimes I have dark thoughts like I wish I could just disappear. That’s why I want to find a therapist who has experience helping people my age deal with that kind of stuff.
  • Baba, I feel like the things that used to matter to me don’t anymore. I don’t feel like myself. The best way you can help me is by letting me talk to someone, just to make sure that I’m okay.
  • If I had a broken arm, you wouldn’t try to set the bone for me, would you? Right now, the help that I need is around my mental well-being. I hope you’ll support me in that by helping me find a therapist.
  • Remember! You are the expert on your own body, and that includes your mind! No matter what your parents believe, if something doesn’t feel right, you should get a second opinion. A discouraging response doesn’t mean you don’t still need help.
  • Sometimes despite our best efforts, our parents have their baggage or resistance that makes it hard for them to understand where we’re coming from. If there are other adults in your life that you can call on, don’t hesitate to reach out and see if they can support you in accessing help.

Talk to a trusted family member

  • This could be an older sibling, a cool aunt, or even a supportive grandparent.
  • If you aren’t sure where to begin, here are some conversation prompts:
  • I was wondering if I could share something personal that I’m struggling with. I’m having a hard time emotionally, but Mom is resistant to letting me see a therapist. Do you think you could talk to her for me?
  • Can I trust you with something? I’ve been feeling very depressed. I want to see a therapist, but Dad is having some hesitations. Could we talk to him together?
  • You’ve always felt like someone I could talk to when things get bad. I need your help. I’ve been feeling awful lately, but Baba is against the idea of me seeing a therapist. What should I do?
  • Involve a teacher, coach, or counsellor.
  • Ask if you can speak to them in private using the same prompts as above. This can be scary, I know, but trying to navigate depression by yourself is even more difficult in the long run.

Talk to your family doctor

  • If you have a check-up scheduled, you can always ask to be screened for depression or anxiety when you see your doctor. If you don’t have an appointment, you can ask your parents to schedule one, explaining that you’d like to be screened just in case.
  • Often, parents will trust a doctor you’ve been seeing regularly more than they trust therapists or psychiatrists, and this can be a bridge to getting the care you need.
  • Is there someone at your school that you trust to support you in this?
  • If you’re a trusted person isn’t able to help? You can (and you should!) keep asking until you get someone who listens. Your mental health is the most important thing here. Don’t let anyone discourage you from advocating for yourself.
  • Tell your parents you’d like to try a month of therapy to see if it’s helpful. Sometimes if you take the initiative, parents are more likely to take the issue seriously!

Find a counsellor at your school

Many schools have something called a “crisis counsellor,” and they aren’t required to report back to your parents except in extreme cases, such as being a risk to yourself or others. Some schools also have psychologists that you can schedule time with. Reach out to a trusted teacher or staff member to get more information on what’s available to you.

Seek out additional resources

There are a lot of other online resources that aren’t counselling but can help support you during this time. You can find some of those resources listed here.

Move forward without them

This is the “last resort” for when you can’t seem to get anyone to hear you. Some of these options will eventually involve your parents, and some may not — you’ll know which option makes the most sense for you.

Try taking the first step for them

Otherwise known as “asking for forgiveness rather than permission.” Try signing up for a confidential website like TeenCounseling to talk to someone, and with your counsellor’s help, involve your parents next. You can send them the FAQ page to get them comfortable with the idea.

Disclaimer: While it’s true that the use of online therapy makes it easier to lie about your age to access those services, it’s not recommended, as honesty is foundational to doing good therapy together! There are also legal complications that could impact your therapist’s ability to continue practising.

Whatever you do, reader, please don’t give up!

  • You deserve help. You deserve support. And you deserve to feel better.
  • While I wish parents did a better job of getting this right the first time around, it may take some extra effort on your part to get the help that you need.
  • Please know, though, that the effort is worth it. Your life is worth it.
  • Take it from an adult who’s been there: It can get better, and it will get better with the right support. 

Create a list of the reasons you must live. This list can include being alive for your pet, your children, a favourite niece, or something that you enjoy doing at work or home. It doesn't matter what the list includes but finding a sense of purpose in your life can make a difference.

Write about your thoughts and feelings. Consider writing about the things in your life that you value and appreciate, no matter how small they may seem at the time.

Getting Help for Suicidal Thoughts

  • When you meet with a doctor about your condition, you’ll find a compassionate person whose primary interest is helping you. Your doctor will ask you about your medical history, family history, and personal history. They’ll also ask you about your suicidal thoughts and how often you experience them. Your responses can help them determine possible causes for your suicidal feelings.
  • Your doctor may run certain tests if they suspect that a mental illness or medical condition is causing your suicidal thoughts. The test results can help them pinpoint the exact cause and determine the best course of treatment.
  • If your suicidal feelings can’t be explained by a health problem, your doctor may refer you to a therapist for counselling. Meeting with a therapist regularly allows you to openly express your feelings and discuss any problems you may be having. Unlike friends and family, your therapist is an objective professional who can teach you effective strategies for coping with suicidal thoughts. There’s also a certain degree of safety when you speak to a mental health counsellor. Since you don’t know them, you can be honest about your feelings without fears of upsetting anyone.
  • While occasional thoughts of escaping life are part of being human, serious suicidal thoughts need treatment. If you’re currently thinking about suicide, get help immediately.

Suicide prevention

If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:

  • Call Helpline Number or your local emergency number.
  • Stay with the person until help arrives.
  • Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
  • Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline. Try the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

The Takeaway

If you’re having suicidal thoughts, it’s important to first promise yourself that you won’t do anything until you seek help. Many people have experienced suicidal thoughts and survived, only to be very thankful later. Make sure to talk to someone if you’re having trouble coping with suicidal thoughts on your own. By seeking help, you can start to realize that you aren’t alone and that you can get through this difficult time. It’s also important to speak with your doctor if you suspect depression or another mental illness is contributing to your suicidal feelings. Your doctor can prescribe treatment and refer you to a licensed counsellor who can help you work through the challenges of your condition. Through therapy and medication, many formerly suicidal women and men have been able to get past suicidal thoughts and live full, happy lives. When life doesn’t seem worth living anymore, it may seem that the only way to find relief is through suicide. When you're feeling this way, it may be hard to believe, but you do have other options.

  • Take a step back and separate your emotions from your actions for the moment.
  • Recognize that depression and hopelessness can distort your perceptions and reduce your ability to make good decisions.
  • Realize that suicidal feeling are the result of treatable problems.
  • Act as if there are other options instead of suicide, even if you may not see them right now.
  • It may not be easy, and you might not feel better overnight. Eventually, though, the sense of hopelessness — and thoughts of suicide — will lift.

Get immediate help

If you think you may hurt yourself or attempt suicide, get help right away by taking one of these actions:

  • Why do I feel suicidal?

Many kinds of emotional pain can lead to thoughts of suicide. The reasons for this pain are unique to each one of us, and the ability to cope with the pain differs from person to person. We are all different. There are, however, some common causes that may lead us to experience suicidal thoughts and feelings.

  • Why suicide can seem like the only option?

If you are unable to think of solutions other than suicide, it is not that other solutions don’t exist, but rather that you are currently unable to see them. The intense emotional pain that you’re experiencing right now can distort your thinking so it becomes harder to see possible solutions to problems—or to connect with those who can offer support.

  • A suicidal crisis is almost always temporary

Although it might seem as if your pain and unhappiness will never end, it is important to realize that crises are usually temporary. Solutions are often found, feelings change, unexpected positive events occur. Remember: suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Give yourself the time necessary for things to change and the pain to subside.

Take these immediate actions

If you’re feeling suicidal at this moment, please follow these five steps:

  • Step #1: Promise not to do anything right now

Even though you’re in a lot of pain right now, give yourself some distance between thoughts and action. Make a promise to yourself: “I will wait 24 hours and won’t do anything drastic during that time.” 

Thoughts and actions are two different things—your suicidal thoughts do not have to become a reality. There is no deadline, no one’s pushing you to act on these thoughts immediately. Wait. Wait and put some distance between your suicidal thoughts and suicidal action.

  • Step #2: Avoid drugs and alcohol

Suicidal thoughts can become even stronger if you have taken drugs or alcohol. It is important to not use nonprescription drugs or alcohol when you feel hopeless or are thinking about suicide.

  • Step #3: Make your home safe

Remove things you could use to hurt yourself, such as pills, knives, razors, or firearms. If you are unable to do so, go to a place where you can feel safe. If you are thinking of taking an overdose, give your medicines to someone who can return them to you one day at a time as you need them.

  • Step #4: Don’t keep these suicidal feelings to yourself

Many of us have found that the first step to coping with suicidal thoughts and feelings is to share them with someone we trust. It may be a family member, friend, and therapist, member of the clergy, teacher, family doctor, coach, or an experienced counsellor at the end of a helpline.

Find someone you trust and let them know how bad things are. Don’t let fear, shame, or embarrassment prevent you from seeking help. And if the first person you reach out to doesn’t seem to understand, try someone else. Just talking about how you got to this point in your life can release a lot of the pressure that’s building up and help you find a way to cope.

  • Step #5: Take hope – people DO get through this

Even people who feel as badly as you are feeling now manage to survive these feelings. Take hope in this. There is a very good chance that you are going to live through these feelings, no matter how much self-loathing, hopelessness, or isolation you are currently experiencing. Just give yourself the time needed and don’t try to go it alone.

The author can be reached on email: sherin@talenmark.com

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