Ángeles Guillen and Cecilia Lobato
Talking about suicide is never easy. Family members, friends and loved ones are left destroyed, often endlessly questioning why their loved one decided to end their life, while being consumed with guilt.
This scenario becomes even more complicated and painful when we are talking about a young person “with their whole life ahead of them”, someone who should be full of the desire to live and with a promising future ahead.
As such, we must focus on suicide prevention, particularly when it comes to young people. Young people today are a significant risk group as there are vulnerable to social media, peer pressure, new and challenging physical and emotional scenarios as well as life’s spiritual tests. By detecting the early warning signs and encouraging a spiritual life, suicide can be prevented, help given to find the balance between the worldly and the spiritual and learn from adversity. Not only will this help adolescents to grow stronger, but also develop their spiritual path.
“The vicissitudes of life are of two kinds, or if you prefer, stem from two different sources which are important to distinguish. Some have their cause in present-day life, while others arise outside this present life.” (The Gospel according to Spiritism, Chapter 5, point 4).
The vast and valuable teachings of Spiritism have made it possible to understand that we ourselves have planned each of the situations that we experience during our lives, with the sole purpose of helping us to grow spiritually, setting out before us the huge variety of emotions and situations that will enable us to have greater awareness and to embrace love. But even so, sometimes life’s challenges can seem like a nightmare from which there is no escape, filling someone with the desire to escape at any cost, with death seeming to be the only alternative to end the suffering.
But what happens when the outlook is not so dire? When life “unfolds” calmly, presenting only small hurdles that can easily be overcome? In this case, the explanation offered by the law of reincarnation is our ally for understanding and tackling these questions. It tells us that in incarnations prior to our current one we have racked up “debts”, or that we are experiencing consequences arising from our current incarnation. This means that spiritual suffering among adolescents or children is often the result of experiences in previous lives.
Understanding the law of reincarnation does not mean we should sit back and passively watch situations unfold. On the contrary, we must provide all the means and tools necessary to support young people and the situations that most affect them. We have a duty to help protect them at their most vulnerable, helping them to develop a strong sense of self, self-love, and love for others. These are the basic skills needed to develop resilience, self-confidence and faith; elements that will undoubtedly provide foundations ready to withstand the challenges of being alive.
What may lead a child or adolescent to commit suicide?
Identifying what triggers a person to lose the desire to live is a highly complex matter, because every situation is different. This notwithstanding, some authors have identified key factors that may trigger suicidal ideation. For example, Dr. A. Águila (2012) found that children at risk of committing suicide share some characteristics. He states: “the first is that a larger percentage of children had a high level of fantasy and low tolerance of frustration”, and goes on to say that “their perception of reality was never actually grounded in reality” and that “they reacted accordingly with suicidal ideation or suicide attempts in order to prevent something that they perceived as even more catastrophic happening to them.” Other factors this author mentions are impulsiveness, ambivalence and inflexibility.
In parallel with this is the existence of decisive situations in the context of suicide: abuse, particularly emotional and psychological abuse by their primary caregivers i.e. parents, grandparents and close relatives. Disproportional punishments, placing excessive responsibilities on the shoulders of children and young people, isolating them, denigration and a routinely violent and hostile climate between parents and caregivers are all risk factors for suicidal ideation.
Here we understand that bullying has two angles: that of its perpetrator, and that of its victim.
Identifying the warning signs of suicide
To be able to take the appropriate action, it is vital to recognise the signs of an adolescent who is at risk. This may be extraordinarily complex because, as we all know, adolescents are at an age where they are seeking self-affirmation through rebelling against authority figures such as parents, teachers and mentors.
Witnessing behaviour such as trying to find “their own space” and doing activities outside the family are everyday occurrences when you have an adolescent living under your roof. Even so, there are some guidelines that can help us navigate through this period.
Analysing the setting in which an adolescent is developing is crucial in terms of prevention, because once the “trigger” factors have been identified (there is usually more than one), it becomes possible to intervene and mediate in the situation.
To begin with, areas of family dynamics need to be examined such as communication with siblings and parents, the presence of an authority figure with whom there is dialogue and who can be “someone to lean on” for the adolescent going through difficult times. The presence of conflicts, or of physical, financial, psychological or sexual violence can obviously cause an adolescent to be vulnerable.
Equally important are peer group relationships because during adolescence friendships are vital; they are the reference group for the formation of personality, habits, preferences and customs.
Bullying and suicide during adolescence: as parents and family members we need to be aware of the different forms of bullying, because the more we understand, the more likely we are to be able to prevent them in the first place or stop them before the go too far.
There is cyberbullying, which is aggression through the misuse of social media, telephones, the internet, etc. There is sexting, a form of attack where photos and videos of a private and sexual nature are posted without the victim’s consent. Then there is homophobia, discrimination against individuals whose gender identity or sexual orientation does not conform to the heterosexual norm, and there is racism, where aggression is directed at members of ethnic or social minorities.
How can we spot an adolescent who is experiencing violent situations? Someone who is the victim of bullying will behave differently and their state of mind will change. They become irritable, edgy, odd, sad, shut themselves off, they may be easily frightened, forgetful, they may cut off contact with their friends, stop meeting them and going to parties, pretend to be ill, look lost and start spending a lot of time on their own. Parents need to be attentive if they see any of these signs.
On top of this there are other social and economic factors that can create high stress levels. These situations include living in conflict or war zones where violence is patent, losing a parent or a loved one, or not having access to basic needs such as a shelter, food and clothing.
In all these circumstances, it is of vital importance to maintain close contact with the young person, as far as that they will permit it, and to seek expert help if you spot any of the signs mentioned above. Never forget that paying attention to small signs can make all the difference when it comes to preventing suicide.
Spirituality as a resource
De Cerqueira A. (2011) “Anyone who commits suicide, or at least the majority of them, does it to escape from a painful situation.”
Let’s remember that adolescence does not just “materialise” overnight. On the contrary, the attachments and relationships built up during childhood will be key in forming the personality of each individual, so maintaining a close, affectionate and honest relationship with children will create an atmosphere in which they know that whatever life throws at them, they can turn to us for help.
Nurturing our spiritual side will also be fundamental for coping with difficult moments, not only during adolescence, but throughout our lives. As we know through our own experience, situations arise that are outside our control, trials of life that we cannot insulate ourselves from and that will require us to draw on inner strength. When human beings remain aware that there is something to be learned from each situation, even during life’s difficult and challenging moments, they can see challenges as learning experiences. Talking to them gently and consciously will enable them to identify what needs to be learned from the situation and how they can move on. Of course, this does not make the pain go away, but it can make it more manageable.
Teenagers are at a stage of their lives when absolute rebellion reigns and they can reject the lessons learned earlier in life. This encourages them to doubt and question the spiritual foundations acquired in childhood, and they often seek to “challenge” these teachings when times are hard.
Precisely at these times, adolescents who have been brought up with the traditional teachings of inflexible doctrines based on deity figures who punish or reward human behaviour will criticise such teachings harshly and have a poor opinion of them. In turn, this will often lead them to abandon these teachings.
As for adolescents who have been encouraged to develop their spiritual side, who were not brought up with a spiritual doctrine based on reward/punishment but rather were encouraged to contemplate spiritual growth, to consider that life has been planned for development of the soul, will also question all aspects of life. But they will be equipped with better resources for coping with dark times, they will feel sheltered and better able to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
By calling on their spiritual side, adolescents will have additional tools for coping with difficult situations in the world and this will boost their ability to reflect and develop as a person.
As committed parents, adults who are sharing the path with an adolescent must also accept the need to maintain a loving attitude and take care of their physical, emotional and spiritual needs alike. It’s vital that parents and caregivers identify situations that are outside their experience and seek extra support, using all the means at their disposal to guide them on their path of personal development.
“As far as you are able, do not deprive your son of your good example and wise counsel, even though he heeds them not.” Chico Xavier channelling the spirit Emmanuel, Coraje [Courage] p. 67.
Ángeles Guillen and Cecilia Lobato, psychologists and members of the Spiritist Council of Mexico and the Mexican Association of Spiritist Psychologists.
Chico Xavier. (2009). Coraje. Brazil: Mensaje Fraternal.
Alejandro Águila Tejeda. (2012). Suicidio, La última Decisión. Mexico: Trillas.
Alirio de Cerqueira Filho. (2011). Suicidio Falsa Solucão! Brazil: EBM.
Allan Kardec. (2014). El Evangelio según el Espiritismo. Brazil: IDE.
Juan Casados Flores, José A. Díaz Huertas, Carmen Martínez González. (1997). Niños Maltratados. Madrid: Díaz de Santos.
M.J. Mardomingo Sanz. (1994). Psiquiatría del Niño y del Adolescente. Madrid: Díaz de Santos.