Advice for teachers and educators

Statistics: 20 adolescents die annually due to suicide

Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes their potential, has control of normal stressful situations, works productively, and contributes to the community.

Samomor med mladimi - priročnik za učitelje

Mental health is on one side of a continuum, while mental disorders are on the other side of it.

The term mental illness or disorder describes a wide range of problems which are reflected in how we experience things. This includes thought patterns, emotions, behaviour, relationships with others, and how we function in everyday life.

The most common mental illnesses among youth are:

  • Depressive and anxiety disorders; characterized by a long-lasting depressed or apathetic mood, negative and anxious thoughts, fears, and irritability which is also reflected in behavioural changes.
  • Eating Disorders; in the form of binge eating, vomiting after meals, and food refusal.
  • Substance Abuse; unhealthy consumption of alcohol and/or drugs.

Most mental illnesses can be treated successfully, especially when problems are detected early and help is sought from mental health professionals.

Adolescents often feel that the difficulties they are facing are unique to them and that they must be able to deal with them on their own. In moments of distress, social support and awareness about expressing emotions can be crucial.

Suicide among youth

Suicidal thoughts among adolescents may be a part of thinking and dealing with questions about the meaning of life and death. The risk of developing suicidal behaviour occurs when suicidal thoughts represent a way of solving their problems or relieving distress.

Every year in Slovenia there are about 20 young people between 14 and 19 years old that complete suicide and many more that attempt suicide.

International experts estimate that for every suicide among young people, 100 to 200 suicide attempts are made. Suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts are more common among girls, but the number of completed suicides is four times higher among boys. There are several factors accounting for this gender paradox. Boys are typically more aggressive than girls, choosing more dangerous methods of suicide and will often have a greater number of co-occurring risk factors (e.g. suicidal thoughts with an associated mood disorder or alcohol abuse).

Warning signs that may indicate severe distress in adolescents

Adolescents who are seriously contemplating suicide often communicate their distress in different ways. Research shows that most people in the final stage of the suicidal process express certain warning signs that they intend to take their life. These signs are usually shown a week before the actual act and can be communicated directly or indirectly, making it difficult to recognize. They can appear in the form of declarations of the individual’s emotions or of the planned suicide (direct or indirect verbal warning signs). They can also appear in the form of behaviour that draws attention to severe distress (behavioural warning signs).

A single warning sign does not necessarily mean something fatal, but with each sign indicating distress, hopelessness, a pessimistic view of the future, or a desire for an end it is important to ask the individual about their feelings and intentions.

Some behavioural warning signs:

  • changes in behaviour and/or nutrition,
  • extended periods of depression,
  • increased isolation,
  • inability to cope with problems,
  • loss of pleasure in activities that they used to enjoy in the past,
  • alcohol and/or drug abuse,
  • deliberate self-harming behaviour …

Some verbal warning signs (from relatively indirect to very direct ones):

  • “everybody is making fun of me”,
  • “nobody cares about me”,
  • “nobody likes me”,
  • “I hate myself”,
  • “I can’t do this anymore”,
  • “I’m tired of everything”,
  • “I wish I was dead”,
  • “I have decided to kill myself” …

Brochure for teachers

Slovene speaking readers can find further information in an informative brochure for teachers, educators, and those who are in professional contact with adolescents. The brochure is available within the project A (se) štekaš?!?.

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