Help! My child has suicidal thoughts

Mable Twegumye Zake's #BitsOfMe&You

"By the time a child attempts suicide, they have gone through several stages of stress, anxiety, depression and distress. Through those stages, they try to communicate that they need help but in vain," Vivian Olgah Kudda a clinical psychologist with Minders Wellness and Psychological Center revealed.

Many a pre-teen can easily return home from school and say, “Mummy I am stressed.”

Many a parent can brush it off as a casual remark but Kudda says that one in five children will suffer from a mental health condition at any time in their life.

Most mental health conditions start in the age between 15-24 a critical period of transition but mental health challenges can start from as young as when one is born.

"Mental Health in children means that they can reach their developmental and emotional milestones and are thriving socially and cognitively in order to cope with daily stressors that could arise," Kudda explains.

Have communities in Uganda opened up safe spaces for children to freely speak about issues affecting their mental state?

Bits of ME

Part of his lower body as it hang on a tree roped by the neck was soaked in urine and faeces.

I recall this incident like it was yesterday.

My playmate (name withheld), I at the time in primary six, he was in P.5.

He had left a sad note in reference to a neighbour’s girl who had rejected his love as the cause for the suicide.

The ensuing melancholy which enveloped our community left majority of parents then embracing their children in fear of “what if my child commits suicide?”

Naysayers cast ridicule upon the dead child questioning what he knew about love at that age to push him into a tragedy!

While that incident could have briefly opened up conversations between parents and their children to share any sentiments of emotional state, the upbringing under the maxim of ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ so often widened the open communication gap.


Bits of YOU

 No wonder then why in Uganda mental health has been in a limbo surrounded by several myths and misconceptions.

To note, relating to my play mate’s regardless of the suicide note, the village grapevine was the boy had been bewitched and triggered to carry out the task by a woman who had a conflict with his parents.

Kudda emphasizes that there is a dearth in awareness on mental health in both the young and adults who lack basics on the topic and attribute the causes to non-scientific factors such as spirits, witchcraft and religion.

With Uganda’s population constituting 70% of young people, the cases of mental health disorders are rising.

 Some are triggered in the early stages of a child by poverty or lack of basic needs, transient care givers, witnessing or experiencing domestic violence, death of a loved one, chronic illness, sudden changes like shift to boarding school, unnecessary pressures to perform well, adolescence, bullying, child abuse, substance use, divorce among others.


According to Kudda, management of the cases isn’t seriously handled since there is less consultation on the existing policies and governing laws concerning children’s mental health; the children’s act, the UN declaration on the rights of children, the Child and Adolescent mental health among others.

In addition, child participation is not guaranteed because children are not listened to as they should.

The only way to support a child is to hear and listen to them even if one does not agree with what they have to say’.

She explains that a child undergoing mental distress or suicidal tendencies will start developing ill-thoughts such as, ‘perhaps things will be better when am gone, I will no longer have to burden anyone anymore, I really don’t care anymore, I am tired, after all we shall all die’.

"Children express their emotional disturbance different from how adults do. For children, it is behaviorally. Some may start to bed wet yet they had stopped doing so, they may not eat or fail to play and interact with others," Kudda cautioned.


Preventive/supporting tips

  • Acquire knowledge on mental health
  • Watch for behavior changes
  • Show love and support
  • Keep communication open and honest
  • Family stability
  • Offer positive feedback and encouragement
  • Encourage and provide happy moments
  • Provision of early guidance according to age, maturity and gender
  • Seek help early when you read the tale tell signs
  • Ensure general wellness, physical, environmental, financial, social etc
  • Be role models.
  • Integrate mental health of children in education, health etc
  • Ensure safety, physically and emotionally
  • Model healthy coping skills

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