Teens' cry for help

The cases of teenagers attempting and committing suicide are on the rise, driven by a shallow and materialistic lifestyle, coupled with inadequate parental attention.

Children living in invalidating circumstances, who have to deal with harsh criticism and indifferent parents, often face self-esteem issues.

This leads them to equate their existence with material ownership of the latest gadgets or with their idols - actors, actresses and singers.

Since they do not have healthy self-image and self-worth, their spirits are easily broken and this leads to depression, self-mutilation and even suicide.

Prince Court Medical Centre consultant psychiatrist and clinical hypnotherapist Dr Daniel Zainal Abdul Rahman sees this disturbing trend daily.

Every week, he sees three to four new teen patients. "Elderly males used to be the predominant group who commit suicide, but now, it's the younger people," he says.

"It's a global phenomenon, with one death recorded every 40 seconds. And for every suicide reported, five to eight are not. For every death, there are 20 attempts," he says.

What is scarier is that suicide, according to the World Health Organisation, is the second leading cause of death among the 10-24 years old age group, a grim indication that the young are mentally fragile.

Factors leading to teenagers committing suicide include depression, the use of illicit drugs and abuse (both physical and emotional).

"Most reports centre on physical abuse. But emotional abuse is just as destructive, if not worse," he says.


Dr Daniel Zainal brings the issue back home. "You have to go back to the home environment. How much time do parents spend with their kids?

"With latchkey kids - those left to fend for themselves when their parents are at work - the pain of loneliness and boredom lead to illicit drug use, spending excessive time in cyber cafes and hanging out with the wrong crowd. For these kids, there is no mature input on personality development," he says. "As for nutrition, they subsist on instant noodles while waiting for their parents to return from work."

Much can be said about the adults based on what kids tell him. A 9-year old girl told Dr Daniel Zainal that she will ask her father for a new gift - which he will give to make up for not being there for important events like a recital or speech day.

"I know he will give me what I ask for because he feels guilty," she says.

Dr Daniel Zainal says: "We (psychiatrists) randomly ask children this question: If you are trapped on a remote island and if you can have someone to accompany you, who will you bring? For those under 10, 70 to 80 per cent would give the name of a friend or a distant relative. That, to me, is a sad indication of the deteriorating family bond."

Some patients tell him that he is the only person who has ever taken time to listen to them. Some patients have dismissive parents.

"I told my mum that I am depressed and she retorted, 'What do you have to be depressed about?'," one teenage patient said.

Hear and listen


Parents, he says, must not fall into the trap of using: "But when I was your age, I was already...".

"This is wrong. You cannot equate yourself with a child now. The world has changed and so must parenting," he says.

Modern teenagers live with too much information and temptation - money, social networking sites, unlimited information on the net - and there is a need to be actively involved in their lives to counter these and help them build solid self-worth.

"Parents need to let children express their fear and frustrations. Often, parents only want to hear happy things because they don't want to have to 'deal' with problems," he says.

"Parents stand on polar opposites sometimes. They are either overly involved or indifferent. The former pamper the child too much, the latter think if they ignore the problem, it doesn't exist," he says.

Children, he says, is a mirror reflection of family dynamics, which explains why treating teenagers will often lead him to family therapy.

While no studies have concluded that children and teenagers of divorced parents have more psychological issues, including suicidal behaviour, how adults deal with the issue will affect the kids.

"Most times, divorced parents use children as proxy to get at each other. If parents do not have a good relationship and they fight all the time, staying together won't do the children any good either," he says.

By 2020, suicide will be the second cause of death in the United States. "We live in a materialistic world. There is no work-life balance. The measure of success is seen in how much material you own, which isn't healthy.

"At the end of the day, teenagers need help and guidance because they cannot navigate life's complexities themselves. Parents must be willing and able to help their young children with this," he says.

Watch out for these changes

Eye and ear

Watch out for these changes in your children

1. Acting out behaviour like not wanting to go to school, dropping grades, suddenly becoming silent or easily agitated.

2. Changes in appearance. Pay attention to the people they mix with and invite friends to your house so you get to know them better.

3. Changes in appetite, losing interest in food or suffering weight loss

4. Monitor their social networking sites. This isn't to punish them but children and teenagers often drop clues and hints on their well-being and feelings to friends and unfortunately, even strangers.

Are you depressed?

Patient depression questionnaire

In the past two weeks, how often have you been bothered by the following problems:

1. Little interest or pleasure in doing things.

2. Feeling down, depressed or hopeless.

3. Trouble falling or staying asleep, or sleeping too much.

4. Feeling tired or having little energy.

5. Poor appetite or overeating.

6. Feeling bad about yourself, or that you are a failure or you have let yourself and your family down.

7. Trouble concentrating on tasks, like watching television or reading newspapers.

8. Moving or speaking so slowly that other people would have noticed. Or the opposite, being so fidgety or restless that you have been moving around a lot more than usual.

9. Thoughts that you would be better off dead or of hurting yourself.

Note: If you are (or if you notice anyone) suffering from these conditions most days, it is best to get help before it is too late.

Grim details

Dr Daniel Zainal says that over the last 45 years, suicide rates worldwide have increased by 60 per cent. Worldwide, suicide is among the three leading causes of death among those aged between 15 and 44 in many countries.

Samaritans of Singapore (SOS):1800-2214444
Singapore Association for Mental Health:1800-2837019
Sage Counselling Centre:1800-5555555
Care Corner Mandarin Counselling:1800-3535800