"Donna, what have you done?!" Teen suicides during war: how to protect your children

, 21:32, 28.08.2023
Estimated reading time: 10 minutes

“She was a very good, quiet girl. That day was her birthday. I also congratulated her. She came with her friend. They walked together all the time. And after maybe half an hour I hear "baba!"

Donna, what have you done?! Teen suicides during war: how to protect your children

WHO - 800 000 people worldwide take their own lives every year

“She was a very good, quiet girl. That day was her birthday. I also congratulated her. She came with her friend. They walked together all the time. And after maybe half an hour I hear "baba!". First I saw them on the asphalt. I started shaking... I couldn't speak. They fell together. They held hands, so they lay together..."

Nadiya Romanivna recalls the details of the terrible tragedy that happened before her eyes. An elderly woman works as a porter at the entrance to the house where one of the dead girls lived. The woman had known her since childhood. She admits: after what she saw, she could not sleep for several days and could not find words to support her broken parents.

Currently, the police are investigating all the circumstances of a possible double suicide, when two 12-year-old girls jumped from the 15th floor of a skyscraper in the capital. From time to time there are reports of similar cases. Did the statistics of suicides among teenagers change during the war, who is at risk, what "red flags" parents should pay attention to and how to protect children from a fatal step - in the hromadske material.

Teen suicides during war: how to protect your children

Statistics of suicides in Ukraine because of war

Currently, the mental health of children in most Western countries is the worst ever studied, especially for girls. Denis Ugryn, professor, psychiatrist of children and adolescents living and working in Great Britain has such data.

"Right now, the suicide rate among girls is at its highest since the beginning of our research, which is more than 160 years," Ugrin said on a special broadcast of the "Simply Words" podcast on health during war.

Over the past year and a half, 13 cases of suicide among children have been recorded in Kyiv. In the majority (in 9 out of 13 cases) the girls decided to commit suicide. However, as they say: compared to 2021, the tendency to commit suicide among teenagers is decreasing.

In 2020, there were 123 cases of child suicide in Ukraine. Law enforcement officials recorded this number on average every year. After a general trend of a decrease in the number of suicides in Ukraine, during the Covid-19 pandemic, a noticeable deterioration in the situation of suicide among teenagers has become noticeable. At the same time, domestic experts also see no signs that there will be a new surge now during the war.

“The fact that children respond with some self-destructive behavior – yes, it is true. But they are not necessarily suicide attempts. There are high-profile cases, but there will probably be fewer, not more, says head of the Department of Psychiatry, Psychotherapy and Medical Psychology at Hromadske National University of Healthcare. P. L. Shupyka Galina Pylyagina. A professor and doctor of medical sciences, he has been struggling with suicide for over 25 years.

“For the rest, we need to talk about statistics. And you can't rely on the quality and data of the current one. From 2014 it was different, because occupied territories were not taken into account, and now even more so".

How war affects on teenagers

According to Halina Pylyagina, due to the war, almost everyone is under psychological stress. And children are one of the most vulnerable categories of society. But it is also impossible to generalize and say that mental disorders among teenagers intensified as a result of warfare.

"People are dying, forced evictions, problems with education, separation from friends - does this affect teenagers? This certainly has an impact. But how does it affect it, what are the resources or additional problems from the outside - it's different in each case. Based on my experience, I would say that our risk group is forced migrants. But again, the teenager's problem, even if he has lost a loved one, may lie in something else."

Olena Platova, a psychotherapist, psychoanalyst and crisis psychologist from the team of "Psychologists at War", sees no reason to believe that the war has somehow increased the number of attempts to shorten the lives of teenagers. According to her, thoughts of suicide in adolescents are less frequent than in adults, they depend on external circumstances.

“These are processes of inner psychic development or inner mental development”, Platova is sure. — When I talk to young people in the occupied territories, with teenagers from families affected by the war, they also talk about their suicidal thoughts, but they are not related to warfare, not to external processes, or even to anxiety. They are related to the eternal problems of puberty. "Who am I? Why is this life? Do those I love love me? Will they love me in the future?"

In fact, according to the psychologist, the question, as before, mainly concerns the quality of relationships between children and adults.

“Yeah, the tension has really increased. Because there is increased tension inside and outside adults. And children are mostly our mirror these days. And when motivated, confident and optimistic adults are around them, they immediately change. The tragedy is that adults lack the resources to communicate and pay attention to teenagers. Just as it wasn't enough before, it's really not enough now for objective reasons".

Teen suicides during war: how to protect your children

When to "raise the alarm"

"Donna, what have you done?! I told you not to go, I told you not to go..."

According to neighbors who witnessed the recent tragedy in the capital, the father cried furiously over his daughter's body. Residents of the house say that everything was fine in the family and assume that the dead teens may have been influenced by someone. There is also mention of the so-called "groups of death", the increase of which was observed a few years ago. The police do not comment on the previous versions. However, recently there is little information that such "groups" have become more active.

In general, experts often talk about the negative impact of social networks on the psyche of children. However, it is difficult to demonstrate a causal relationship here, as the British The Economist wrote.

“It's true that social networks have a dangerous influence these days. But again, this is not the basis for checking every child with whom and how he communicates. Only if there are grounds for it. And if there is normal contact between parents and children, they will notice some problems,” says professor Galina Pylyagina.

Of course, social networks and the Internet cannot be blamed for all the problems. There are many factors and motives that can lead to suicidal intentions among adolescents: a feeling of loneliness and quarrels with parents, bullying, self-dissatisfaction, unrequited love, etc. According to Galina Pilyagina, even an impulsive need can be a cause of suicide. But usually such a decision matures in the child's head for more than a day.

What should alert parents:

  •  sudden withdrawal, sudden reluctance to communicate;
  • or vice versa – sudden, completely unexpected joy, unusual for a teenager;
  • sleep disorders;
  • refusal of food;
  • constant talk about death;
  • goodbye and giving away your favorite things.

And the exact sign of a problem, says Pylyagina, is self-harm. These are cuts, wounds, scratches or burns from the buttocks on the skin. While not all self-harm is indicative of suicidal intent, it cannot be ignored. 

Listen to your children: advice for parents

As stressed by psychotherapists, first of all, it is necessary to establish trusting communication in the family, pay attention to children and their surroundings. And the smaller the child, the greater the role of parents.

“I understand that it is very difficult to talk to teenagers, but you need to find a way to communicate, listen more carefully, look more carefully, try to understand and ask questions, offer to talk, spend more time to find out what is going on next.” says psychotherapist Olena Platova.

And adds what you absolutely cannot do:

  • at any age and in any conditions to devalue their personal qualities, feelings;
  • avoid communication;
  • mock or ridicule;
  • point to your experience as a single example.

From the experience of Professor Denys Ughrin: sports and a clear daily schedule are very useful for teenagers. In addition, it's important to make it clear to them that any stress response, whatever it may be, is perfectly normal. At the same time, in his opinion, it is important to be as honest as possible with children.

"A colleague of mine, an American psychologist, said: 'Parents can tell their teenagers any truth, they can show themselves in any condition: weak, sick, bad, annoying, unpleasant, ugly ... The only thing adults have no right to show children - his refusing to cope with this life,” adds Platova.

In really problematic cases, you should contact specialists. Although sometimes it is enough for a child to simply speak up and receive sincere support that parents are unable to provide due to their own problems. Still, it's better to be careful, says psychiatrist Galina Pylyagina.

“The responsibility of adults is not that they can solve everything - no, unfortunately that is not the case. However, it is the parents' responsibility to try to find out what is going on with the child."

Life is worth talking about

According to statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), 800,000 people worldwide take their own lives every year. In the messages presented by the WHO, information breaks through that every 40 seconds someone commits suicide, while every 3 seconds someone attempts suicide.

Teen suicides during war: how to protect your children

Where can you turn for help in Ukraine?

  • to the 24/7 National Hotline for Children and Youth — 116 111 or 0 800 500 225.
  • call the 24-hour national suicide prevention and mental health helpline Lifeline Ukraine - 7333.
  • to Teenerizer resources where teens can get free online advice.
  • to the 24/7 National Domestic Violence, Gender Discrimination and Human Trafficking Hotline - 116 123 or 0 800 500 335 .
  • the 24-hour helpline for psychological help for children and adults of the NGO "Man in Trouble" is 0 800 210 160.
  • to the helpline of free psychological help from the "Głos Dzieci" fund - 0 800 210 106, as well as to Telegram-bot or Viber-bot.
  • to the Kyiv Municipal Center for Psychological and Psychiatric Assistance in Mental Crises – (044) 456 17 02, (044) 456 17 25.
  • to the free psychological helpline of the National Psychological Association (for Ukrainians directly or indirectly affected by the war) — 0 800 100 102 (open 10:00–20:00).

#War in Ukraine#Suicide#Help

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