There has been a lot of discussion about suicide lately, what with so many prominent people involved. I have an adult son who seems unwilling to find a job. I’m afraid to push him too hard because I’m not sure how he would react, and that this would push him into depression and suicide, especially if I threaten to withdraw his allowance and housing privileges, which I’m paying for. And yet, I know that his current situation is not good for him.

That is a tricky situation. It doesn’t only affect adult children, but teenagers as well. How much do we as parents, especially Asian tiger mums, push them?

What is the middle path? Push them too hard, especially at exams, and they might break and commit suicide.

Push them too little, and they might not get anywhere at all in life – or even be equipped to live in the harsh and cruel world, which can be unforgiving to those who attempt less.

Many times, we as parents fail to be empathic with our own children – especially as we want to mould them in our own image, or an image of what we think we want them to become.

We want them to score 10 A1s at exams, something we haven’t achieved ourselves. We want them to be doctors and lawyers and entrepreneurs. We want them to marry and have children quickly.

All this, without taking into consideration what they want, because there is a tendency for us Asians to think we “own” our children and they have to do what we want them to do.

I struggle with this myself. It is because I love my children that I want the best for them, and for them to be the best versions of themselves. But how do I recognise that I have gone too far?

It all depends on what type of parent you are.

Are you the authoritative sort, who must not be questioned by your children?

If so, then they probably won’t tell you about what is going on in their lives for fear that you would not understand and will punish them.

Or are you the sort who invites conversation and try to insert yourself into your child’s life as much as you can?

Then your child will be more likely to share things with you.

Even then, they can choose to keep important things to themselves for fear that you will judge them or forbid them to do certain things with certain friends, or because they don’t want you to think that they are not the people you believe they are.

There are certain warning signs to look out for when someone is contemplating suicide.

What are the signs that I should be looking out for?

It depends on whether the “possibly” suicidal person is a teen or adult.

Here are some warning signs that a teenager you know may possibly be contemplating suicide. When your teen:

• Talks about committing suicide or wanting to die

• Seeks out ways to self-harm, such as buying a known poison (e.g. paraquat), or gaining access to rope or knives

• Talks about feeling hopeless, helplessness or having no reason to live

• Talks about being in pain they cannot bear, or feeling trapped

• Talks about being a burden to other people

• Starts taking or increasing use of drugs or alcohol

• Acts anxious or agitated

• Takes unusual risks or acts recklessly

• Starts sleeping more or less than usual, or keeps unusual hours

• Socially isolates oneself, or talks about feeling isolated

• May be extremely angry or seeks revenge

• Shows extreme mood swings

You should be on the lookout for clues, whether or not you are a parent, relative, teacher or guidance counsellor.

It should be noted that when any teen has been exposed to another teen who has committed suicide, that teen is more likely to commit suicide as well. This is known as “suicide contagion”.

I have noticed these signs in a boy I teach at tuition class. He seems estranged from his father, who wants him to score well at exams. But he struggles with his studies and is forced to take tuition. What can I do to prevent him from committing suicide?

It is important to remember that suicide can affect any teen, no matter how well adjusted or engaged he or she previously was.

Any hint at suicide should always be taken seriously and not brushed off as “Oh, the teenager is probably acting out or trying to gain attention”.

Sometimes, this may be true and the teen is really trying to gain attention. But that attention is the suicide itself, and the damage will be done.

What you can do is ask the teenager directly: “Are you planning to take your own life?” and “Do you already have a plan on how to carry this out?”

If the answer is yes to either one or both, don’t attempt to handle this yourself or keep it to yourself.

Take the teenager to a doctor, psychologist or suicide/mental help centre to seek help.

This is even before letting his parents know, because sometimes, parents may react very harshly, or may even be the cause of why the teenager is contemplating suicide.

Dr YLM graduated as a medical doctor, and has been writing for many years on various subjects such as medicine, health, computers and entertainment. For further information, e-mail starhealth@thestar.com.my. The information contained in this column is for general educational purposes only. Neither The Star nor the author gives any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to such information. The Star and the author disclaim all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.