Rejection hurts. And one of the universal truths is that at some point in our lives, we would have to deal with being pushed away.

And one of the hardest blows to recover from is a rejection from a loved one.

Earlier this month, a HK beauty pageant contestant found herself in the news after her ex-boyfriend allegedly killed himself after they broke up.

He left behind a suicide note, which said: “I’ve gone through becoming unemployed, betrayed, dumped and heartbroken since September… I don’t know what I’m living for when I wake up every day. I jolt awake drenched in cold sweat and my heart racing because of all the nightmares I’ve had due to all the emotional instability. Life is really tiring, and I don’t want to continue [living] any more.”

His younger sister told the media that he had tried to kill himself several times before, but she or his buddies always managed to stop him in the nick of time. She even said that he seemed normal the night before he leapt to his death.

Breakups a major cause of suicide among youths

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Research shows that breakups are the leading cause of psychological distress and a major cause of suicide among young people.

Every relationship is different and so if it fails, the pain and trauma that each partner goes through is unique.

Some recover quickly, while others paper over the cracks, only for deep-seated issues to bubble up years later, affecting otherwise healthy relationships. Still some never truly recover, irrevocably changed by the events of the break-up.

Whatever the case, the mental distress that comes with such a loss cannot be dismissed.

Many adults recount the breakup of a romantic relationship, especially if it’s their first, as the most traumatic event of their youth.

Yet as we get older, we somehow tend to forget just how raw those emotions can get. We brush away our younger friends’ heartbreak with well-meaning but casual comments like “it’s part of growing up” or “don’t worry, it will get better” in a manner that trivialises their hurt.

Comments like “welcome to the club” or “if I could get through it, so can you” diminishes the suffering that these young people go through and hampers the healing process.

Especially for youths who are trying to make sense of their lives and their reason for existence while dealing with societal pressures, a breakup can become an all-consuming, and sometimes fatal, obsession.

Don’t miss the tell-tale signs

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The irony of this is that everything people often say is true: It does get better over time; it is part of growing up and almost (sadly) everyone survives it.

So how do you tell the difference between someone who is mourning the loss of a relationship in a healthy manner and someone who is falling into depression?

It is normal after a break-up to feel anger, sadness, loss, lethargy or suffer insomnia.

It is not normal after a break-up to continue experiencing the same degree of these feelings after a sustained period of time.

For example, you may feel hurt for getting dumped, or anger over someone leaving, or shame for having been left behind. But as the weeks pass, these same feelings should diminish – slowly perhaps, but definitely not increase.

There are emotional and behavioural red flags for someone slipping into depression. This non-exhaustive list includes:

  • feeling sad, hopeless and lacking energy for most of the day
  • losing interest in once-loved activities, and isolating themselves
  • crying spells or outbursts of anger, especially over small matters
  • eating too much or too little
  • sleeping too much or too little
  • agitated actions like pacing or hand wringing; or lethargy in speech and movement
  • feeling worthless, caring less about personal appearance or hygiene
  • having difficulty concentrating or making decisions
  • thinking or talking about death

So if someone you know may have suddenly lost interest in things they used to enjoy or refuse to step out of their room or home for a few days, and when you do see them, they are unkept and uncaring about their appearances, be more attentive and ask about their well-being.

Putting things into perspective helps

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When a relationship ends, some people plunge into a deep despair and lose meaning in life. Others take rejection as a personal negation of everything they stand for and feel as if they have no value.

Says Prof Mark Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University, addressing the topic on the pain of social rejection: “Rejection can sometimes be a clue that you behaved badly and should change your ways. But frequently, we take rejection more personally than we should.

“Very often, we have that one rejection – maybe we didn’t get hired for this job we really wanted – and it makes us feel just lousy about our capabilities and ourselves in general. I think if people could stop over generalising, it would take a lot of the angst out of it.”

I recently spoke with a friend who gave me a refreshingly different perspective on how we should view break-ups. He told me: “It is their loss if they cannot appreciate how wonderful I am.”

It might sound as if he was being arrogant or in denial, but what I took away was this sense of resilience in his spirit. It is something we can all strive to cultivate when we are hit with setbacks and failures in life.

The value of being a good friend

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Often, when something bad happens to us, we are too blindsided to see the value of our worth. That’s when we need someone, a friend, who is there to remind us that we are wonderful and how our lives still have so much value.

Positive social interactions give a natural mood boost, so a good friend will help ease the sore feelings that come with rejection. Having good friends is like being equipped with a four-wheel drive. When we encounter a steep hill or an obstacle, good friends help encourage one another and find strength to keep vigorously pushing forward.

Be that kind friend and be there.

Call these helplines if you need emotional or psychological support:

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