Ask Anonymous: Issues related to suicide in Qatar


Photographer: Nadia Benali

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Rida F., Senior Editor in Chief

I had a friend in 7th grade who was a rape victim.  And it really messed with her mind. She would text me really often with [suicidal thoughts].” 

I recently spoke with ASD high school students about their experience surrounding the topic of suicide, and one responded with these heart-wrenching comments. The story may seem like one isolated incident. However, ASD Times’s advice column, Ask Anonymous, recently received a related question: “My friend told me that they are feeling suicidal. What should I do?”

As no one in our student club is a mental health professional, I was prompted to investigate what people with more expertise in the subject could offer as advice for young people in Doha. 

Asked how they would handle a suicidal friend, many ASD students had said that talking to adults is a bad idea. In fact, one student explained that they “don’t want to overstep…boundaries… [which] might lead to more severe thoughts in the future.” However, adult professionals such as Ms. Emilee Tollefson, ASD’s high school counselor, say that “by telling a trusted adult,  you will get a friend the help they need. But, by not saying anything… that’s when [suicide] occurs.”

According to her, any time a friend mentions suicide in a serious manner, you should approach a counselor. The counselors assess the student by considering their plan of action, the lethality of that plan, and whether the student has the resources to complete that plan. Prior to going to a counselor, you can use similar ideas to assess your friends independently and report that information to a counselor, even if the student does not initially want to visit the counselor themselves.

A mental health professional at Sidra agrees. Taking time out of her busy day to take our questions, Dr. Durre Shahwar told me that the first step should always be approaching the school counselor. In fact, she elaborated that by going to the counselor early on, doctors may not have to intervene, depending on the intensity of those thoughts.

Problems resulting from lack of communication, reporting

If a student does not report the suicidal thoughts to an adult, this lack of communication could have direct consequences.

Some ASD students have already experienced these consequences firsthand. One student told me that they had a suicidal friend with peers who believed that adults did not need to be involved. The student described slowly changing their own view, saying, “I realized that…this overconfidence could lead to be a bigger problem, so I informed the person’s family.” The student says confidently now that they would do the same in the future, which indicates that telling adults can have a positive impact. 

Many students, nevertheless, worry that some parents may not be understanding of complex mental health issues. When I asked one student who they would tell if a friend confided in them, they said,  “I would talk to someone. …if I know their parents would [believe the suicidal thoughts], and not [act] abusive.”

However, Dr. Shahwar noted that the solution to the potential issue of parents who may not understand today’s teens’ complex mental health issues such as suicidal ideation is not keeping them in the dark. Rather, she said, the relevant parents simply need “psychoeducation,” the type of information many therapists advocate for the friends and loved ones of those suffering from mental-health disorders.

Advice for friends of sufferers 

Dr. Shahwar understands that in short-term instances, you may not be able to go through the time-intensive process of psychoeducation.

She recommends the website MoodJuice  for young people and others who want to learn more about how to handle issues surrounding suicide, depression, and various mental health disorders. MoodJuice is not only an informational website, but also a self-help site, and it can provide advice to people who are experiencing symptoms of assorted emotional crises. Even so, Dr. Shahwar believes that teens should be wary, as “psychoeducation should only be [taken] from authentic websites.”

In relation to self-help resources,  counselor Tollefson said, “In Qatar there are no helplines. I’ve heard there are counselling chat rooms, but I don’t know how reputable they are. ”

Both experts fully endorse few self-help resources, as they believe students should use their own judgement and be careful while picking out resources. 

Teens also downplay seriousness of talk of suicide

Although many teens are concerned about adults not understanding the gravity of young people’s suicidal feelings, students often minimize the topic’s significance, too. 

Both Dr. Shahwar and Ms. Tollefson said that some students nonchalantly make comments such as “I’m going to kill myself…I’m going to kill you for this.”

Ms. Tollefson advises everyone to “…not joke about suicide…because you do not know what [any person is] going through.”  

What if the worst were to actually happen?

When conducting research, I also came to understand that students are not only concerned about the precautions to take to avoid suicidal behavior, but also anxious about what would happen if a suicide were to occur in their social or familial circles.

In a case where a student has committed suicide, Dr. Shahwar said, the first step is psychoeducation of the student body and family in order to reach a deeper understanding of the situation, and to alleviate guilt among the student population. While some students may be very concerned about Qatar’s laws around the topic, according to Dr. Shahwar, Qatar “[is] more like Western societies” in how it deals with suicide than some neighboring countries. She said that cultural ideas about suicide in Qatar is shaped by this country “being controlled, disciplined…[and] more manageable” than another nation where Dr. Shahwar worked previously. 

Mental health awareness helps everyone

Good mental health encompasses much more than suicide and depression. You can raise awareness about mental health in general. Dr. Shahwar says that students should consider taking action regarding mental health by “putting information on webpages [like] how to deal with depression, [or] exam stress.” She encouraged students to create or advocate information sites.

“A support website,” Dr. Shahwar suggested, “should [exist] ideally in every school. If students are aware, they can develop their own support group.” 

Furthermore, taking care of your own mental health is just as important as helping others. If you feel like  you are independently dealing with poor mental health, Ms. Tollefson wants to remind you that “you are not alone. Your friends care, teachers care…ASD cares…Counselors care…” She urged students who are struggling to “Please reach out.”  

With teenage mental health declining according to some, and with suicide rates rising, students may not only experience mental health issues, but they are also likely to have to deal with the mental health dilemmas of their friends.

So, to the person who asked ASD Times “What should I do?”, I say not only tell an adult, but also take care of yourself.

By telling adults, you can put yourself first, as everyone is collectively working to help one person.

The student whose friend was a rape victim also told me that even though at the time “I was super down in the dumps… I would go to sleep super late, and I would wake up super early [anxious about my friend]… I realized I should not have to babysit my friend. Put yourself first”.