On World Mental Health Day, the World Federation for Mental Health invites us to talk about mental health, wear a green ribbon, and increase our awareness of certain issues. This year on October 10th, one of the 6 themes relating to ‘Young People in a Changing World’ is the issue of young people (aged 14-28) and suicide.
We are, as a society, generally getting better at talking about mental health and suicide, but it can sometimes feel like we (including the media) are missing one of the key points when discussing this heart-breaking topic. It is this.
A large proportion (40%) of young people (students, teenagers and children) who die by suicide every year are not known to any health or counselling services, have not asked anyone for help and have not felt able to talk about their worries. In students, only 12% were seeing counselling services.
Therefore, as a society we need to tackle the barriers that are stopping people from asking for support, that leave them feeling isolated and trapped, and make them feel terrified of letting down their families and the people they love.
In the UK we know that young people tend to choose suicide when they have suffered a combination of stresses, it is rarely in response to one terrible event (as it is more common in older life, such as divorce, or bereavement), but the final straw for a young person can often be what we might usually consider to be quite ‘small’, such as a single poor mark at school, an unpleasant text from a friend, or the breakdown of a short lived relationship.
It is important, therefore, that those of us caring for or working with young people take the time to listen, and never to be dismissive of such events, as they may be all that it takes for that person to feel that life is just too hard to keep going on with.
The belief that people (including professionals) might not take them seriously, or keep their concerns confidential is one of the reasons young people often don’t seek help. Other reasons include fear of stigma from others, or perhaps they stigmatise themselves (and are critical of themselves for feeling this way). They may have had a poor previous experience of seeking support (an unsympathetic GP, A&E nurse or CAMHS team), or hope that the problems will go away on their own, so they suffer in silence. Many believe that treatment and help is not needed, or think that they don’t have time to get help.
There are therefore many reasons for young people not seeking help when anxious, depressed or having suicidal thoughts, and the more we are aware of these, and the more we talk about these openly, the sooner we will be able to reach out to them, and offer them the compassion and hope that they need.
On this World Mental Health Day, take the time to really listen to a young person, and talk to them about their worries. It may be the small step that makes a lifesaving difference.