Over-protecting children could be contributing to higher suicide risks in later life, an Irish GP and mental health practioner has warned.
Dr Harry Barry was speaking at the Console World Suicide Prevention Day Conference at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin on Thursday.
Educating our young people from an early age about both mental illness and solving life crisis situations can be the key to significantly reducing the number of suicides, said Dr Barry.
“Parents have a massive role to play in not over-protecting children and helping them to problem solve rather than solving problems for them,” he said. “In later life, children who do not learn to problem solve sometimes lack the resilience to be able to find solutions to life crisis events.”
Dr Barry said research has shown many people who take their own lives have been under stress for a considerable period of time, as evidenced by the level of stress hormones in their system.
“This is critical, as the more the emotional brain is swamped by trying to deal with the stressor, the higher the stress hormones climb, attacking the logical mind and its ability to solve the problem.
“Eventually the emotional mind can only see the problem and is unable to see any solution other than death as a way of handling the emotional trauma which ensues.
Dr Barry said parents need to teach their children how to be resilient and adapt and problem solve.
“Real resilience is all about teaching people to problem solve what they can, with the help of others and to change their perspective about issues they can’t alter. They need to try and solve each component part if possible, starting with the easiest and moving on to the hardest,” he said.
“This must start in early childhood and should be embedded in the mind of the young person before the teenage years when the crisis times often emerge. In my own work, particularly with young men in their twenties and thirties, I find helping them to learn this skill of adaptability often gives them the tools to move beyond suicide as the only option.”
Console CEO Paul Kelly also called for parents to play an active role in educating their children to expect some disappointments in their lives.
“We have to teach our children that not everything will go right in their lives, that they will suffer many disappointments and that some will upset them greatly,” said Mr Kelly.
“Quite simply, in the rush to achieve, be it through points, places or salaries, we are producing a generation of young people for whom it is all or nothing. For Console, and for society in general, we have two tasks – to reach and to teach. We need to teach our young people that nothing is a matter of life and death.”
Mr Kelly said Console have seen a 49 per cent increase in texts to their helpline as young men in particular, access crisis help through their mobile devices by texting HELP to 51444. “62 per cent of texts to Console’s 51444 line are now coming from males, a figure which is being hailed as a breakthrough in suicide prevention as young men are being reached for the first time.
“They may not talk but we have found that they will text – and by constantly reaching out on social media we are meeting them where they are, not where we think they should be.”
National suicide prevention and bereavement charity Console offers counselling services and 24-hour helpline support to people in crisis and those bereaved by suicide.
The Console 24/7 Suicide Helpline 1800 247 247 (or text HELP to 51444) can be reached anytime and many resources and useful information can be found at www.console.ie.