There is help out there

Science and healthcare

There is help out there

16. 07. 2019 11:29

People in Slovakia search the internet for the topic "suicide" 1,000 times per month on average, and 1,600 times for the expression "how to kill yourself", according to the findings of a group of psychologists running a newly launched online project aimed at helping suicidal youngsters with crisis counselling . It's called which literally means "I want to kill myself" in Slovak and it should become the first website that pops-up in front of the eyes of those searching the topic of suicide on the internet, as psychologist Marek Madro explains:

Teenagers prefer online chatting as their main tool of communication and this is the reason why we do it online. We are building on the experience of another project which we have been running since 2012, an online help centre that puts our psychologists in contact via email or chat with youngsters who can then anonymously discuss various problems such as loneliness, depression, romantic relationships, domestic violence, sexual abuse and so on. Our experts do not ask for any personal information, we have a nickname and the IP address of the person contacting us. The topic of suicide figures in about a fifth of all communication, and in a third of these cases we are talking about life-threatening situations. People with suicidal thoughts usually look for somebody to talk to outside the group of those closer to them, because they experience such loneliness and anxiety. They form communities on social media focused on suicide. We have found 11 such communities, and when we started mapping them we discovered that when people search for topics related to suicide on the internet, information on how to commit suicide is more easily available than information on how to find help and not to do it. That's why we have decided to launch this special website dedicated to helping suicidal teenagers.

The youngest client with suicidal thoughts they had dealt with so far was only 12 years old. Since the beginning of the year they have had 301 acute cases, meaning that the person who contacted them was in immediate danger of hurting themselves. Based on the data collected from communication with young people who have contacted the help centre, loneliness is the issue that impacts them the most.

They feel under pressure because parents have certain expectations from them, for example to perform well in school, and also to be successful within their peer-groups, because we live in this performance-driven culture. When they think they have failed to meet these expectations and can't find somebody to talk to they start to feel lonely. Then loneliness itself is regarded as a failure, so they enter a crisis and "feeling lonely" turns into anxiety and depression. Then they become unable to solve daily issues they face at school or at home and problems pile up. How do they define success? Well, it varies - it could be studying abroad at a good university, or becoming an influencer.

Speaking of influencers how many of them realize the impact they have on their online followers? I am asking this question because at least when it comes to young girls, following somebody who talks about make-up, fashion and how to look good can have a negative impact on their self-esteem. I guess it could be the same with the young boys who are bombarded with other people's ideas on how to define masculinity. Do these young people understand that there are marketing strategies behind these influencers who are merely endorsing some products?

Well, young people in general have enough knowledge about marketing and quite a good understanding of how social media and technology works. It's often their parents who do not understand it and are afraid of it. I have been in contact with some influencers, mostly to try to help them manage their own popularity. They openly admit that they want to make money out of what they do and - with one exception, a person who cares about mental health - they are not interested in this topic.

The topic of suicide is still taboo in Slovakia, as I found out in my previous reporting on it. A shortage of school psychologists and paediatric psychiatrists makes things even worse. In Slovakia there are no public awareness campaigns on the topic of suicide.

We did some research on why young people who struggle with emotional issues may refrain from contacting a psychologist or psychiatrist, and we concluded that it is mainly because they are afraid of being stigmatized, that other people will find out and think they are crazy. About 38% of those who have had suicidal thoughts have not told anybody about it. This is part of a wider trend in Slovakia of how we discuss or rather do not discuss openly the topic of mental health. Schools become interested in the topic of suicide often only when there is a problem, usually after one of their students has committed suicide. They do not know what to do or how to discuss it with students, and they call us for help. Afterwards some send at least one of their employees to some specialized training. In the wider society if a well-known person commits suicide, media tend to romanticize her or him as if he was a kind of hero. In our Slovak culture we have this mentality that one should not say bad things about those who are no longer among us. So we do not discuss his or her problems. The risk is that it can inspire young people in trouble to follow suit. It's the so-called "Werther effect", and it doesn't even have to involve a well-known person - it can happen in a school among fellow students too.

Says psychologist Marek Madro adding that apart from direct contact with people in need, the website also provides professional articles on how to deal with anxiety, and advice for the family and friends of a person with suicidal thoughts.

We are working on a special project to offer help to youngsters with hearing impairment because they can barely find a psychologist or a psychiatrist in Slovakia able to communicate via sign language. Now we are training psychologists via videoclips to be able to manage a help centre for these young people too. I think in Slovakia the mental health of young people with disabilities is a hugely ignored topic.

Concluded Madro.

Psychologist Marek Madro
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