I find myself asking the suicide question often. Probably too often - but I am thankful that this student came to me for help. The thing is, they probably didn’t even realize that they were asking for help.
That is very common. Our youth don’t know how to ask for help. Don’t raise your eyebrows, because it’s true I have met a lot of parents who have lost a child to suicide and I’ve asked them, “When you knew something was wrong what did you do?” I’ve met more than a few parents that have said, “We didn’t know what to do.” Yes. It might not be that they didn’t know what to do as much as they were scared and perhaps thought the problem would simply go away on its own.
About 100 days a year, I spend long days in school buildings speaking to teens, teachers, counselors, administration, parents and community leaders. There is always time to meet with teens one-on-one. They feel comfortable coming to me to share their life’s challenges, questions, fears, problems, and so much more. I have heard it all. There is nothing I haven’t heard from teens, and you would be amazed.
In this particular case, the young lady came in to chat with a friend. But I knew there was more.
The first thing you want to do is build a relationship of trust and respect. You want the student to know you care about them. You’ll notice in the video that I took the time to listen and validated the student for coming forward. I noticed red flags almost immediately.
Take all signs seriously.
Our job is to be the trusted adults where the child feels comfortable to talk. They’re hurting and looking for help, but they don’t know how to ask for it. By simply letting them know you care, you can often get the student to open up. At that point you have done your job and the situation goes to the school counselor. The counselor then follows school protocol and contacts the parents.
It is at this point that a problem arises. The parents often diagnose their children themselves, which means that they are not taking the issues seriously. Our teens need help – whether this is dealing with stress, anxiety or expectations, peer pressure or bullying or just that the child is exhausted. Our youth today lack coping and problem-solving skills. Parents should be the best advocate for their children, but often they’re not listening.
You’ll notice in this video that the parents were called once before but never returned the call.
What is your next step? This is a gray area in many schools and with counselors.
I operate on taking all signs seriously. Now that you know there is a child who has strong suicidal ideation and you’ve done an assessment, you are responsible just as much as the parents. If the parents don’t take it seriously and you have concerns based on what you’ve heard and believe, go to child protective services or call the police. In these cases I would also consider having a doctor’s note before the child returns back to school. This covers you and the school, but also forces the parents to have a plan for their child. Unfortunately, we have to deal with this more and more and we are being asked to do more with less.
Our job is to educate our children and provide a safe place for them to learn and grow. If the parents aren’t going to help us do our job, then we will have to help them do their job. It is a priority to be here for all of our students.
Far too many students are asking for help and not getting the help they need. Then they avoid asking for help because nobody is listening.
We live in a world where many of our kids and families are broken – and we in education are well aware of this. Mental health in schools is rapidly becoming a priority, and we are doing a great job. We’re not yet where we need to be on this, but our efforts are being seen and heard. Let’s keep taking the well-being of our teens seriously and giving our families and students the support they need.
God forbid your school community is next with a suicide, let alone a suicide in the school building. At this particular school, they had an attempted suicide in the girls’ bathroom a month before I came in to speak. The young lady is no longer a student at the school. She is where she needs to be, but the trauma to everyone in the school community remains..
When you are talking with a child who is asking for help, be patient. Work hard to listen and gain their trust. Don’t be afraid to ask the questions. In the above video, pay attention to how I ask the questions – but it’s not as important how you ask them as it is that you just ask the questions.
You are the trusted adult. You will get a feel for what that child is communicating with you. You will know what to do. Coming from the heart is more important than thinking you need to be a mental health professional in these cases. Remember: our job is to get the child the help they need, and we are often the ones that know the child best. Don’t be afraid.
The student in the video was taken to the hospital for an immediate assessment by a mental health professional and it was determined that she needed to be admitted for inpatient care.
I am really proud of this child for coming forward and asking for the help.
After this, there was another child whose situation was much more serious. I determined that the student could be a threat to himself or the school. I asked him if he thought he could potentially do something violent and take his aggression and anger out on the school, in the school, or to anyone in the school. At that point, he started to shake. I immediately grabbed his hand and told him to breathe. I calmed him down.
The counselor was in the meeting with me and this young man, and told me before the meeting that the student was very needy.
I had about 10 minutes before I needed to go speak with the student leaders. .
I quickly got to the point, and noticed quickly that this child was seriously at-risk. Within ten minutes, we had the school counselors on the phone and the parents coming to the school immediately.
After my meeting with the student leaders, the counselors told me that the young man’s dad came to the school. He was worried about his son, but wasn’t sure what to do.
Thankfully, dad now knows what to do. He took his son to the hospital right away. I haven’t heard anything more, but I am proud of this young man too.
Our youth are trying to reach out. We need to be present when they ask for help.
Remember to take all signs seriously. If you are in doubt, think about the best interest and safety of the child and take appropriate action.
Thank you to all educators, coaches, and anyone that is working with our youth today. You are touching hearts and changing lives.