Singaporean mum breaks down: “My son said he wants to kill himself”

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"Nothing hurts you more than hearing your child say they want to end their life. And I hope and pray that no mum or dad has to ever hear such words."

Selina* breaks into tears as she flashes back to the day her child, 11-year-old Ron* tells her he wants to take his own life. This is her heart-breaking story...

It has been a difficult 4 months for my son adjusting to a new school. We moved from Woodlands to East Coast at the start of the year. He is in Primary 5 and at the age of 11, is more matured than most of his cousins and friends. He’s a deep-thinker and has a curious mind. Always being the first to help anyone in need, he reminds me of my dad--- big-hearted, warm and very approachable.

But of late, Ron’s confidence has been shaky and he's become very angsty. He breaks out in hives over his homework, or over his younger sister taking too long in the bathroom. My son has turned into a very stressed young man, and my husband and I have started to worry.

Every time he doesn’t get what he wants, or we ground him because of bad test results, he'll say he'll run away from home. We have never taken it seriously and tell ourselves it's just him manipulating us. Looking back now, maybe there were signs of him sinking into depression or some kind of emotion I cannot not understand.

So imagine my horror when Ron comes to me one day and tells me, “Mum, I think I am going to kill myself one day.”

“What?! Where did that come from? What happened?” I was startled. My tummy flipped and my heart started racing.

I sat him down, held his hands tight and tried to put a calm front (despite me being consumed by panic and confusion). I asked him why he would say something as terrifying as that. I asked how he was feeling, and assured him that I was there for him and he could confide in me no matter what. “I just can’t do anything right and I don’t want to be here anymore.” His words cut right through me.

“But baby, is school work such a major hurdle in your life that you want to end it? You know what you’ve said is so serious right? I am worried. How can I help you? Please tell me,” I reached out to him.

“It’s not just school work, it’s everything in my life. I have to try so hard to get where people are. What if I don’t succeed in life? My friends are always talking about how they are going to become doctors or lawyers- what if I can’t? What if I end up failing exams and being a drop-out? What if I fail my PSLE next year?”

Watching him battling life at this tender age was heart-wrenching. I had no clue he was under such pressure. I didn’t even know he discussed and thought about his future in depth already. Had I missed all the signs? I knew I had to rectify this, and I had to fix it real soon.

“Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional,” I told him, and gave him as many life problems I had faced, just to show him what he’s going through is normal. Being the toughest conversation I’ve had till date with my little baby, I found myself coming up for air many times.

I certainly didn't want to downplay a remark like this. The unhappiness and tears were very real. My husband spoke to a doctor friend who advised us to take him to a child psychologist. Ron was not cooperating at first, but we promised him that we would be there every minute of the session, and if he felt he had enough, we would leave.

The first session was just three weeks ago, and Ron has (thankfully) agreed to continue. We as parents really want to sort this out as quickly and as permanently as possible. Nothing hurts you more than hearing your child say they want to end their life. And I hope and pray that no mum or dad has to ever hear such words.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of those involved.

As children grow into teenagers, it becomes more challenging for parents to know what they are thinking and feeling. Spend some time reading these ways you can prevent a tragedy from happening in your home. There’s never enough we know as parents, and it’s best to prepare ourselves to understand what can put our children at risk.

Things parents can do to prevent suicide

#1 Don't let your child’s anxiety snowball
Even if you dismiss it as ‘he’s having a bad day’, always reach out and ask, "you seem down today, can I help?"

#2 Never shrug off your child’s cry for help as melodrama
Any written or verbal statement of "I want to die" or "I don't want to live anymore" should be treated seriously. Don’t make the mistake of thinking, ‘he is just saying that for attention’. The child needs attention. His life depends upon it!

#3 Empathise with the child’s feelings
“You must really feel bad right now, I can help” is much more helpful than “You must never say such things” or “You’ll go straight to hell if you do that.”

#4 Seek professional help right away
Do not ‘wait and see if he grows out of it’. If his behaviour has you concerned, don't wait to contact a local mental health provider who works with children to have him evaluated as soon as possible so that your son or daughter can start counselling.

#5 Urge your child not to demand too much of himself
Until therapy begins to take effect, this is the time to divide his tasks into more manageable little ones. Cut down on homework if you have to. Speak to his school teachers and principal, and get them to work with you. Anything too overwhelming and stress-causing is not a good idea right now. You want to rebuild your child’s self-esteem and confidence.

 

If you suspect your child to be depressed or harbouring suicidal thoughts please seek help immediately. Some resources:

Child Guidance Clinic (CGH), Health Promotion Board (HPB)
Second Hospital Avenue, #03-01, Singapore 168937
Tel: 6389 2200
Email: [email protected]
Sunrise Wing, CGH

Buangkok Green Medical Park
Block 3, Basement 10, Buangkok View, Singapore 539747
Tel: 6389 2200
Email: [email protected]

Yayasan Mendaki
51 Kee Sun Avenue (off Tay Lian Teck Road) Singapore 457056
Edu-Advisor Helpline: 6245-5744
Email: [email protected]

Tinkle Friend
(For children aged 7-12)
Helpline: 1800 274 4788

Samaritans of Singapore
Tel: 1800 221 4444
Family Services Centre
Tel: 1800 222 0000

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