Working as a Community to Address Teen Suicide
Bear with me, I am going a little off topic for School Board issues but I want to address something that I think as adults and community members we all need to have our eyes open to. My husband and I recently finished watching Thirteen Reasons Why and then the next day I heard about the lead singer of one of my favorite bands committing suicide, Chester Bennington. I in no way claim to be a medical professional and I have no counseling experience or expertise, in fact I know very little about the topic of suicide beyond what I hear as a community member. All I know is that as my kids are getting older and their friends are getting older, I am getting more and more concerned about it.
Since I heard about Chester passing, I have been listening Linkin Park over and over. As I listened I could not help but notice just how much of a plea his music is. Most people realized that he was fighting many personal demons but once something like this happens and you have perspective, going back and listening to his music is heartbreaking. With that being said, he is an adult rockstar, not your typical American teenager. Unfortunately, as we all know, suicide is not just an adult phenomenon. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in people age 15-24 after only accident (American Psychological Association). In addition, they estimate that 1 in 5 teenagers consider suicide annually. Think about that, name 10 teenagers you know and at least two of them have thought about suicide. Whereas other death rates for teenagers are decreasing, suicide continues to increase steadily.
I have no idea why. I always wondered why and lately the questions have been increasing even more. As I watched, Thirteen Reasons Why, I kept wondering what I could do as an adult. Did I necessarily agree with how the characters were reacting? No. Do I remember ever having that thought as a teenager? No. Could I have helped a friend in that situation in high school? I have no idea. What can I do about it now? Teach empathy and show the children around me the importance of empathy and being supportive. I think the key for us as a community is to not to try to understand the why, especially those of us who are not medical professionals. Instead we need to focus on just listening and providing support. You always hear people say that they just needed to know that someone was there for them and willing to listen to them. They needed someone to show them that they cared. We need to have this topic be less taboo and something that we as adults recognize as an issues facing this generation.
This sounds easy, at least at first thought it does. Unfortunately for adults, life gets in the way. I am as guilty of it as anyone else. I am rushing to get my kids to bed and my 12 year old decides to pour his heart out to me. I can sadly say, there have been nights I have said to him, “I understand, it will get better” or “There is not much you can do about it” and then gave him a kiss and walked out the door. For me as a kid that was OK most of the time but I can’t guarantee that is the same for my kids. So what now? I made a pact with myself this week that I will not just walk out of the room. I need to be honest with my kids but I also need to realize that a simple “it will be fine” will likely not work either. I need my kids to know that they can talk to me, I am really listening. I likely can’t solve it but I will listen.
This goes far beyond me as a parent though. I need my kids to also know that there are other community members that they can talk to and I also need their friends to know it. This is a promise we all need to make to each other as a community. We need to guarantee that there are resources for our kids everywhere. You never know who that adult or person might be that they are comfortable confiding to but we all need to prepared to listen. We need to be prepared to grab that child who might look just a little lost one day and let them know you are there. We also need to make sure we work with the appropriate administration in the school. We have an amazing staff that wants to help our children but when there are hundreds of children, it might be hard for them to notice every single one so we need to work as a team. If we notice a child that might need a little extra support contact the school counselor. If they personally can’t help the child they will know someone that can. Our school participates in the statewide student assistance program. In our district, it is referred to as STAR (Student Taking Action Responsibly). With STAR, any concerned adult (or student for that matter) can reach out to a member of the STAR team which is clearly displayed in each school. The team consists of guidance counselors, administrators, and also support from the outside community. These are adults who are ready to take on issues that our children are facing and work with other staff, parents, and community members to address these issues. Our school has an amazing STAR program but I don’t think it is well recognized among the students or parents. We as a district need to make sure that students know about this resource. We also need to ensure that our students are learning the importance of empathy and quiet listening. We need students to know that they can’t assume to know what someone else is thinking or feeling and they can not judge them for their feelings but they can be that ear that listens. They can show that student that they have their back. Is this always an easy task? Definitely not. Are our children up for the challenge? Absolutely. I think teenagers have been crying out for help for years. That is why shows like Thirteen Reasons Why, the musical Dear Evan Hansen, and bands like Linkin Park have found a huge following. The kids are acutely aware of this going on, we as adults need to catch up. Im just going to end this with some words from Linkin Park’s “Heavy” for those of you that may not have heard it or are not familiar with it:
I'm holding on
Why is everything so heavy?
So much more than I can carry
I keep dragging around what's bringing me down
If I just let go, I'd be set free
Why is everything so heavy?
“Teen Suicide is Preventable.” American Psychological Association. Web. 25 Jul 2017.