International Suicide Prevention Day: this is the topic, on which I was asked to share a reflection. I hope to approach this topic gently, with respect for those who have experienced and are experiencing such suffering, but at the same time, with clarity!
Looking at the new generation, at our adolescents whom we could define as a betrayed age… we are witnessing educational processes and a different look at children, which increasingly comes across as inadequate, adapting to the needs of adults and less and less to that of the little ones (in the family, at school) not finding correspondence in the time of adolescence.
There are two aspects I would like to start from in my reflection: adultization in childhood and infantilization in adolescence. Today, children have much more time to be heard in the family, compared to the time of our grandparents, who say that very often the time spent with the children was that very short snippet, the greeting of the night, because one work shift had not yet finished and another one was to begin.
But do we really listen? It is hard to know what they have to say, as our second daughter, who is nine years old, would say: to listen, it means to be able to hear, not only with the ears, but also with the eyes, with the heart. I believe that the simplicity of these gestures needs to be restored, in a society where we are much more protracted, focused on removing fatigue, pain, suffering … death.
Did we really think that by pushing away what is inherent, in the very gift of life itself, i.e. suffering (a new creature comes into the world, with the mother’s labor pains and the father’s waiting anxieties), that we would be able to protect and guarantee a better future for the new generations? But actually by doing so, we disarmed them!!!
Especially in the pandemic where there was so much talk about death, but we have actually looked away, turned our eyes away from it, as if to exorcise it, and fear has remained, submerged! It is essential to talk about the topic of suicide, its ideation, because it is important to know that this does not increase the risk factor, does not lead to the mood for the dramatic act; suicide is not merely an indication of a mental psychopathology; suicide is the attempt not to go crazy with pain.
Psychopathology such as suicidal planning, social withdrawal, and eating disorders, are not illnesses that affect only one time of life: adolescence, but they are forms of expression of a terrible inner discomfort, which depends on so many variables, which push you to find sometimes extreme solutions, and that is exactly why you have to talk about them!
In the clinical field, it is important not to trivialize this act, which can be declassified, defined as a demonstrative act, but the symptom always has a demonstrative intent! With such acts, our children want to show the pain they cannot verbalize, a pain that is felt, that exists and that they wish to soothe, a heavy mental pain. The most important risk factor is the act, which is very likely to be repeated. There is no strict relationship between the intentionality of suicide and severity of the act, therefore we must be very careful not to trivialize or minimize it.
Such attention lowers its risk factor, allows recognition and listening to a thought that is not confessed, because it is perceived with shame. The elective mode of the expression of youth distress today is attacks on the body.
We must teach our children to stay in pain and teach them that knowledge of pain is a part of life. The mentalization of the body, which boys experience in adolescence, is characterized by the end of omnipotence, peculiar to a child’s thinking (who fears the death of his parents). Much of the risky behavior of adolescents is precisely related to this realization: death exists.
Suicide is not motivated by a single external cause, the condition that motivates such an act can develop not only in a dramatic past, but also and above all from the bewilderment, perceived very often (especially today, in a post-pandemic time) by the adolescent before a huge future that he cannot read and in which he does not perceive a place where he can be expected, welcomed!
The pandemic has exacerbated a mode of expression, of a reality of discomfort, already preexisting: social withdrawal, eating disorders, acts of self-injury. Suicide attempts are the second leading cause of death after traffic accidents, which already existed before the pandemic.
So another suicidal risk factor to consider is the pandemic, as an event to be pushed away, to be suffered and that’s it, not as an opportunity for growth, for development: it is important to regain the meaning of life! Our children have a desire to be welcomed, by an adult culture that is not afraid to ask questions that investigate fragility, masked by an ostentatious security-oppositional-provocative, characteristic of an interiority that seeks belonging!