Alarmingly, in the UK rising numbers of teens have been trying to commit suicide or actually carrying it out in the past year. Every one of these cases is a desperately sad tale that needs to be told, so we can try to understand the reasons why young people take their own lives, says Marisa de Jager.
Furthermore, suicide also had a devastating impact on my own younger life and every time I learn of a new case, the soul searching begins all over again.
Recently, I read about a 13-year-old girl who was 'academically gifted' and who hanged herself in her parents' garden shed the day after being suspended from grammar school for stealing a craft knife. Police found a half-finished letter in her school bag in which she apologised to her family for letting them down.
The girl had previously confided in a teacher that she'd had suicidal thoughts, was self-harming and did not get on well with her parents. Indeed, she’d been known for her suicidal thoughts since she was six years old.
As a result, the girl was placed on a 'red flag' list to indicate to teachers that she was vulnerable and needed to be treated sensitively.
It is reported that the head teacher of the school failed to consider the teenager’s state of mind before issuing the punishment, despite a suicide attempt the previous year.
We also know of Amber Peat, aged 13 years, who went missing after leaving her home in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire. She had argued with her parents, and two days later her body was found less than a mile from her home. She too hanged herself.
Reading around the subject I recently learned that the leading cause of death of adolescent girls worldwide is no longer maternal mortality, it's suicide.
Globally, suicide kills more girls between the ages of 15 and 19 than any other cause - more than pregnancy, HIV/AIDS or road injuries.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released a landmark report called Preventing Suicide: a Global Imperative. This offers insights into global rates and causes of suicide, stressing the need to make suicide prevention a higher priority on the global health agenda. It sheds light on some of the key risk factors for suicide, including, among others, discrimination, trauma, abuse, relationship conflict, social isolation and barriers to accessing health care.
Last month, UK rapper Professor Green, aka Stephen Manderson, took an intensely personal journey to uncover the truth behind the suicide of his father seven years ago. You can watch the BBC programme here. He found that the latest UK figures reveal that suicide accounts for nearly 5,000 male deaths a year, around four times that of suicide in women.
Like many, Stephen is not alone in his journey. I too have learned a great deal about the critical inner voices that drive a person toward suicide - as a social worker and as a close relative. My brother took his own life when he was 24 years old.
I remember how my life changed completely the day my dad broke the news. “Your brother is gone”, was all he would say and as a 17-year-old I could not accept the words and kept thinking “surely this is a mistake”. Sadly, it was no mistake.
The suicide of my brother probably was and still is one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced. As a family, the "survivors," those whom suicide leaves behind, are overcome with intense grief. In its own uniqueness “suicide grief” can only be survived.
The death of my sibling was very difficult and sad for me as teen. I loved and looked up to my older brother. Changes in the structure of my family became apparent and I suddenly had a new role as a sibling and as a daughter. At the age of 17 years old I was now the oldest child.
Despite the devastating impact this has on the people left behind, families often brush suicide under the carpet. It is difficult. It’s not something even my family like to talk about. So how can we as professionals drive prevention and provide the right support at the right time?
Positive mental health is the concern of the whole community and professionals play a key part in this. Young people are growing up in a world with technology that can help and hinder their emotional wellbeing and mental health.
Adults should be vigilant and aware of young people’s use and interaction with the internet and social networks and actively seek information about this part of their lives when gathering information and getting to know them as a person.
The government document ‘Preventing suicide in England: One year on, first annual report on the cross-government outcomes strategy to save lives’ sets out the key role to play in promoting good mental health for all children and young people and intervening early when problems become apparent.
The risks and possible complications of using the internet when feeling vulnerable are well documented. Concerns are around social interaction and friendship building, access to inappropriate sites and communities who may either encourage suicidal thoughts or access to methods of self-harm. Cyber bullying can increase a person’s unhappiness, loneliness and isolation.
Alternatively, the internet can play a very positive part in enabling a young person or adult to access support via groups such as YoungMinds or ChildLine. Counselling and listening services are increasingly being accessed via email or online services, particularly at times best suited or needed such as weekends and at night. Supportive information can be accessed any time of day.
There's also the U Can Cope film, which has had a huge impact, spreading a message of hope to those suffering mental illness.
For 2016, I'd like to use our Voice of the Child campaign to listen to the incredibly complex, multifarious voices comprising our young people. We need to listen and we need to collect the evidence so others can listen and act.
From social workers, to head teachers and health visitors, if we lend an ear, young people will have their voices heard. In that way we can tackle complex issues such as suicide and mental illness and cut through the stigma that envelopes those that need help.
It's time to act - now.
About the author
Marisa De Jager is a qualified Social Worker with statutory case management and strategic management experience as a social work practitioner and manager in child protection. She has successfully implemented Multi Agency Safeguarding Hubs in London, Manchester City Council and Thurrock and has supported the delivery of integrated MASH models with its unique connectivity to Early Offer and Troubled Families in the UK. She delivers specialist consulting services, project management and specialist training as it relates to these business areas.
For more blogs from Marisa, go to: http://nibsharedvision.uk/