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Expert Speak: Tips to deal with suicidal thoughts

Hvovi Bhagwagar, psychotherapist with a special focus on trauma work.

Could you share an experience of a teenager who has experienced suicidal thoughts?

I have had many cases where teens drop out of college or return to India if studying abroad due to the academic pressure and competition.:

  • They cannot cope with the academic stress
  • They face tremendous peer pressure; the issue of not “fitting in”
  • They realise that their chosen field of study is not for them

There can be many more reasons why teens decide to leave college. But when they do, they feel ashamed for coming back. This can lead to anxiety and depression. Some symptoms to watch out for:

  • They face difficulty in getting out of bed.
  • Have little or no interest in normal activities such as going out with friends.
  • Erratic eating schedule.

Depression and anxiety are reasons why a teen might feel suicidal.

What are the symptoms of depression?

1.It starts slowly. A negative thought pattern takes root in the mind where gloomy thoughts persist. A teen can become negative about the past, present and the future.

2.Restlessness and agitation.

3.Sleeping too little or for too many hours.

4.No hunger pang or over-eating. Teens become irritable.

5.These symptoms do not abate on their own; rather become worse.

What are the symptoms of anxiety?

1.Mind pangs of fear, it can manifest in several ways. One might be that they do not want to write exams or do not want to meet a friend.

2.Panic attacks, clammy/sweaty hands. For example, “I do not want to approach situations, they start avoiding new situations.”

3.Problem with sleep.

4.Nausea and frequent headaches.

5.These persist for a pro-longed period of time.

How do you help teenagers cope with suicidal thoughts?

1.Diagnose the problem- Talk to the teenager and understand the depth of depression or anxiety.

2.Tests: Several tests including blood tests.

3.Psychiatrist- If the teen has not eaten for days, lost a lot of weight or is crying continuously, then I refer them to a psychiatrist.

4.Therapy- This involves scheduling activities in an attempt to change their lifestyle.

5.Thinking patterns- The mind is the one who keeps depression where it is. Working with those negative thoughts is the key. The premise is that you can eliminate negative thoughts. The brain can balance out negative and positive data. However in a depressed person, the mind only retains negative thoughts and rejects positive aspects.

I try to make the negative thinking rational. Eg: I did not score 95 per cent and did not meet my expectations, but I did score 80 per cent and topped in English. I try to help them to view positive data.

Are there any side-effects of anti-depressants?

The benefits far outweigh the side-effects. Medicines cannot become addictive. You do not pop a pill and get instant gratification. It takes 4-6 weeks for anti-depressants to settle in the system. Addictive things give you immediate results. Antidepressants enter the blood stream and take time. Also, nobody gives medicine without prescription.

How can parents help their kids who are depressed?

Parents who are very educated also sometimes cannot understand what their kids are going through. A common response from parents is “padai pe dhyan nahi de raho hai, isliye yeh ho raha hai.” Parents can help their kids by being more compassionate and accepting of the fact that depression and anxiety are real problems that need professional help.

How can we combat the stigma surrounding mental health?

Awareness and education are the two ways to combat the stigma surrounding mental health. Teenagers are reading stuff on the internet that makes no sense. Teentalk India is one website that covers all issues and gives well-researched content.

If you have a story to share, Email it to us HERE.

If you have a query, Email it to us HERE.

You can also chat with the counsellor by clicking on Teentalk Expert Chat.

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Academic result is not a measure of self-worth

Hvovi Bhagwagar, psychotherapist with a special focus on trauma work.

In your experience of dealing with teenagers, what is the relationship between academic performance and their self-worth?

Since my clinic is close to the IIT Bombay campus, I get a lot of queries where teenagers find it difficult to cope with academic pressure. They do associate their self-worth with how many marks they’ve scored.

When do you get the maximum number of cases?

The months from December to March are filled with these type of cases because board exams are going on. This is the time when the pressure is very high. And in June, the same pattern repeats. The results come out and the students feel like they haven’t got enough marks.

They also face discouragement from teachers as well. They tell them that if they haven’t scored high marks, they will be held back. Parents also contribute to this line of thought.

Could you share some tips on how to disengage from the idea that marks is a reflection of your self-worth.

1.Maintain a rational thought process: While it is important to score a 96 per cent, a 94 per cent or a 95 per cent doesn’t mean you are worthless.

2.Say rational statements to yourself: Rational statements such as, “It is important to score good marks, but it is not the end of the world,” helps in maintaining emotional equilibrium.

3.Read about successful people: There some personalities such as Mark Zuckerberg who were college dropouts but still managed to become successful in their chosen fields.

4.Focus on being good human beings: Aspire to become good human beings who will contribute to the society in meaningful ways, even if that means scoring less marks in boards or competitive exams.

5.Success lies in happiness: Happiness is a state of mind that drives us to excellence. There is a direct co-relation between the two. Strive to be happy in whatever you have and success will follow.

What are some of the reasons why teenagers cannot cope with academic stress?

1.No competitive spirit: Some teenagers are not prepared to pursue IIT. They get in after 4-5 attempts. If the competitive spirit is not ingrained in them, then they will not do well.

2.Parental and peer pressure: 40-50 per cent of the students pursue it because of parents and friends. Then their marks come in, which leads to depression, anxiety disorders and suicide attempts.

3.Self-identity and self-worth: Getting into premier institutions and academics has become a stamp of self-worth. Teenagers should ask themselves; is this something that they want to do? Unfortunately, they ask these questions to themselves after 1st year.

4.Loneliness: Teenagers from small towns find it difficult to connect with people in bigger cities. There is no outlet for them. Friends become competition; they also back stab.

5.No professional help: Reaching out and seeking professional help is imperative in such situations. Unfortunately, many do not have access to professional help.

Your message to teenagers across India who have given their exams and have yet to get their results.

Academics have become a stamp of your self-worth, which it shouldn’t be. Teenagers think that if I score 90 per cent, only then I am worthwhile.

I want to tell all teenagers that your worth is who you are from inside. Marks are just a number, they will come and go. If they disengage themselves from this view, they will be happier.

We are here to help you. If you feel you cannot cope with academic stress and want to talk to someone, you can write to us at expert@teentalkindia.com or send in a query by clicking on Contact Us/Email Us.

If you have a story to share, Email it to us HERE.

If you have a query, Email it to us HERE.

You can also chat with the counsellor by clicking on Teentalk Expert Chat.

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Disclaimer: TeentalkIndia does not offer emergency services and is not a crisis intervention centre, if you or someone you know is experiencing acute distress or is suicidal/self harming, please contact the nearest hospital or emergency/crisis management services or helplines.