The discussion on mental health has never become so apparent, with students themselves identifying it as a crucial issue. Pew Research’s survey among teens aged 13–17 found that 70% of respondents believe anxiety and depression are some of the most critical issues faced by today’s teens which cuts across all genders, races, and socioeconomic levels. This leaves parents, peers and educators with the call to act upon this particular sign of the times. While depression and anxiety cannot be traced to one particular cause, early intervention may prevent students from viewing suicide as the sole solution to their afflictions.
Leadership starts with compassion
Some policies for suicide prevention have been crafted in the hope of being implemented district-wide. In the meantime, teachers can take it upon themselves to help those who are struggling. Maryville University suggest that today’s educators must create “strategies around their [students] needs, concerns, and abilities.” While this is true in the realm of helping them understand certain lessons or creating strategies to help them learn, it’s also true when it comes to their personal lives. With students spending much of their time at school, teachers are likely to see actions, behaviors, or signs that may not manifest at home.
Seeing the signs
Taboos and stigmas surrounding the topic of suicide may prevent students from seeking help. As such, those with suicidal ideations may feel like suicide is their last resort. This is why initiating the conversation won’t come from them. Getting to know your students on a more personal level may help you notice anything uncharacteristic to their usual selves. Preventing suicide requires an earnest understanding of what the student is going through. It’s important to be aware of students who are at risk due to mental health disorders, factors like complicated domestic situations, previous traumas, family history, bullying, and an overloading of other stressors, since suicidal behavior may not necessarily originate from a mental illness. Moreover, American psychologist Albert Ellis warned against the extreme effects bullying and other disturbances can have on one’s psyche. Teachers are agents of change in these occurrences, both in preventing aggression and in helping them overcome it if it’s already happened. You can then make sure that the student is placed in a secure environment with experts or a crisis team and a network of loved ones who can offer their support.
The power of language
Words hold value and meaning more often than you think. When approaching someone who you think is contemplating suicide, it’s advised that you do not tread around the topic but ask them directly. Psychiatrist Dr. Jodi Gold said, “talking about suicide does not cause people to kill themselves. Not talking about suicide might.”
By speaking to students about what they are plagued by, you give them validation, while taking away feelings of helplessness they may have long felt. Offering a human connection is a key undertaking among teachers in suicide prevention, given their daily exposure to their students. As schools become students’ second home, teachers need to ensure that they make it a place where their wellbeing can flourish. Educators have both the moral responsibility and power to administer a sense of belonging in the school community, where each life is valued.
Article contributed by Rachel Greig
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