Show youth they mat­ter

Benalla Ensign - - News -

The Be­nalla com­mu­nity is one of only 12 place­based sui­cide­pre­ven­tion tri­als in Vic­to­ria, and the only trial in the state’s north east. The tragedy of sui­cide per­me­ates through the whole of a com­mu­nity, and while it is dis­turb­ing that Be­nalla has a sui­cide rate dis­pro­por­tional to the pop­u­la­tion, it is en­cour­ag­ing the is­sue is be­ing ad­dressed. One area Be­nalla has se­ri­ous prob­lems is youth sui­cide, which is part of the rea­son the trial is be­ing con­ducted here in town. The fol­low­ing is an oped penned by Dr Samantha Batch­e­lor, a se­nior re­searcher with your­town and Kids Helpline, which dis­cusses the dif­fi­cult sub­ject of youth sui­cide.

It’s hard to un­der­stand why some­one with their whole life ahead of them would de­cide to end that life, yet 419 chil­dren and young peo­ple aged un­der 25 died from sui­cide in Aus­tralia in 2016.

There’s no sim­ple solution, but if we want things to change it is cru­cial we all in­crease our un­der­stand­ing, step up, and play our part.

We need to start by lis­ten­ing to the ex­perts — young peo­ple who have thought about or at­tempted sui­cide.

In 2017, Kids Helpline re­sponded to 10 636 con­tacts from young peo­ple about sui­cide.

What we’ve learnt from talk­ing with th­ese young peo­ple and those who re­sponded to our sur­vey about sui­cide pro­vided im­por­tant lessons for pol­icy mak­ers, prac­ti­tion­ers, and in fact, each and ev­ery one of us.

Firstly, young peo­ple who attempt sui­cide do not ac­tu­ally want to die, but sui­cide can seem like the only op­tion when you’re in un­bear­able emo­tional pain and have lost any hope of change.

Th­ese young peo­ple of­ten feel they don’t really be­long any­where, that they are unim­por­tant.

Com­bined with a sense of fail­ure or self-ha­tred, they come to be­lieve that oth­ers would be bet­ter off with­out them.

So ev­ery sin­gle one of us can play a part by show­ing ev­ery young per­son we meet that they are truly val­ued — that they mat­ter.

When we asked young peo­ple what helped stop thoughts of sui­cide, they told sto­ries of teach­ers mak­ing an ex­tra ef­fort to show they cared, of friends who lis­tened with­out judg­ing and fam­i­lies who never gave up on them.

The value of gen­uine car­ing and com­pas­sion can­not be over­es­ti­mated.

Un­for­tu­nately, most young peo­ple don’t tell any­one how they’re feel­ing.

They don’t want to worry loved ones and they’re scared that ask­ing for help might make things worse — that they’ll be called an at­ten­tion seeker or their feel­ings will be triv­i­alised.

And the main rea­son why is stigma.

What do we mean by stigma?

Stigma means your best friend say­ing ‘‘just grow up and deal with your prob­lems’’ when you tell her you’re think­ing about end­ing your own life.

It means health pro­fes­sion­als call­ing you a waste of a hos­pi­tal bed when you’ve just tried to kill your­self.

It means be­ing given a lec­ture about bud­get­ing when you’re a home­less teenager col­lect­ing a food pack­age.

Th­ese are all real ex­pe­ri­ences of our sur­vey re­spon­dents.

Too of­ten, just at the time when they most need com­pas­sion­ate support, young peo­ple feel more ashamed, more iso­lated, more dis­tressed and more scared.

And the next time they feel sui­ci­dal, they stay silent. So what can we do? We need to build young peo­ple’s con­fi­dence to share their feel­ings and en­cour­age them to ask for help.

We need to en­sure when they do seek help, they re­ceive a pos­i­tive re­sponse, re­gard­less of who they ap­proach.

More than that, we need adults to be proac­tive, to take the support to the young per­son, not wait for them to come look­ing.

Then we need to pro­vide child-friendly pro­fes­sional men­tal health treat­ment, that is eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble.

It must be pro­vided by a youth spe­cial­ist with the pa­tience and skills to con­nect with a child in dis­tress, which is of­ten not easy.

And fi­nally, that spe­cial­ist support needs to be pro­vided for as long as it takes, not for as long as the fund­ing al­lows.

In other words we need to build car­ing com­mu­ni­ties and health sys­tems based on the needs and pref­er­ences of young peo­ple, rather than the adults man­ag­ing the world in which they live.

Sui­cide is pre­ventable if we all work to­gether.

Hard to com­pre­hend: Youth sui­cide is a huge prob­lem in Aus­tralia.

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