Teen suicides in India are among the highest in the world, say the authors of a report on suicides among certain population categories, with special reference to the country.
"Suicides are a major problem worldwide with the highest rate being among the elderly in the West and among teens in India, bringing greater socio-economic loss due to the death of the young population in India," said J.K. Trivedi, a doctor at the department of psychiatry in C.S.M. Medical University, Lucknow.
Trivedi along with Rohit Garg and Mohan Dhyani - doctors in the same department - has authored the article "Suicidal behaviour in special population: elderly, women and adolescents in special reference to India".
The report was published in the recent edition of the Delhi Psychiatry Journal and tries to analyse the category of children that is at higher risk and the ways to stop it.
"Suicides among young women is the highest in two countries - in India and China. In India, suicides are very high in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Puducherry," Trivedi told IANS.
Quoting a study conducted by the Christian Medical College (CMC) in Vellore, Tamil Nadu, the report said that teens have the world's highest suicide rate.
Globally the suicide rate stands at 14.5 deaths per 100,000, with suicide being the fourth leading cause of death in the age group of 15 to 18. However, in the CMC study, suicide was the number one cause of death among Indian adolescents.
Experts say adolescents whose parents do not understand what they are going through are the most vulnerable.
"Though childhood is the time of great prospects, it can be a period of great confusion and anxiety as there is pressure to fit in socially, to perform academically, to act responsibly, growing self-identity and need for autonomy which often conflicts with the rules and expectations set by others," Trivedi said.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau, about 2,555 adolescents - among them 1,328 boys and 1,227 girls - up to the age of 14 years ended their lives in 2005 in India. The suicide rate went up by 175 percent from 1967 to 1999, the figures said.
"Children's suicidal behaviour is impulsive and their motives, particularly the ones which are impersonal, can be similar to adults," says the article.
Psychologists divide the risk factors that force a child to commit suicide into four - biological, psychosocial, environmental and socio-cultural.
All the factors - biological (mental disorders, alcohol or other substance abuse), psychosocial (poor personal problem solving ability, impulsive or aggressive tendencies, family history of suicide, history of trauma and abuse), environmental (difficulty in school, a drifter and death of a family member) and socio-cultural (lack of social support and violence at home) - play a crucial role in moulding a child's thinking.
"Imitation through exposure (friends or media publicity) makes adolescents more vulnerable to suicide (the copy cat phenomenon)," the report said.
"Parents, school personnel and peers can recognise the warning signs and take immediate action to keep the child safe."
The article quoting experts said parents should start worrying when they see their child writing suicide notes, threatening to kill themselves, turning violent, becoming withdrawn, getting depressed, giving away their prized possessions, self-mutilating, unable to concentrate, unable to sleep or have sudden changes in their personality.
Also, they could complain about headaches, fatigue, try to run away from home, complain of being a bad person or be too cheerful.
On seeing the signs, parents should remain calm, ask the child directly about what he/she is thinking, listen and not accuse them, show concern and assure them of help, not judge and provide constant supervision, the experts said.
"Parents must continue to take threats seriously, access school supports, maintain communication with the school," the article said.
The experts' advice for school authorities is that since a child spends considerable time in school, it is crucial for all school staff to be familiar with and watchful of risk factors and warning signs.