3 Simple Ways to Stop Teen Suicide

There’s no easy way to broach the sensitive topic of teen suicide. So I will just get to the staggering statistics that clearly show the severity of the situation regarding our youth today.

In 2016, according to the CDC-Centers for Disease Control, 2117 suicides among teens 15-19 years old caused suicide to jump to the 2nd leading cause of death in that age group. Based on the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, 7.4% of youth in grades 9-12 reported that they made at least 1 attempt in the past 12 months. If you speak with any school counselor around the world about the number of students they see who have suicidal ideation or have attempted you will most definitely hear that over the past few years it has increased exponentially.

On a yearly basis educators take part in professional development on suicide awareness. More than likely the school counselor discusses risk factors and protective factors, as well as, warning signs and the reporting process. The combination of factors that put a student at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts, attempts, or completion are most often not within our control. They may be past experiences, family dynamics, or mental health disorders to name a few. Our mission as a school campus should be focused more on the protective factors. Check out the CDC- Risk and Protective Factors.  

Our questions and concerns in regards to this subject often revolve around the WHY?

Why do young people want to hurt themselves?

Why in the world would self-harm or suicide be their initial response?

Why can’t they just “suck it up” and move on?

Why are the numbers increasing at such as rapid rate?

Although it would be nice to have concrete answers to these questions, as educators our time would be best utilized focusing on the HOW? How can we instill alternative strategies for coping with the risk factors attached to these children? How can we efficiently identify the warning signs of a student struggling? How can we combat this growing epidemic plaguing our students? How can we make them realize that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, in most cases?

Even the most seasoned counselor can feel overwhelmed with managing this very serious issue on campus. Here are 3 simple, straightforward ideas to help you tackle the HOW when it comes to suicide awareness and prevention:

1. Ask the Question

There is such a stigma that comes with this subject. Kids are embarrassed or afraid to bring it up and ask for help. Adults are often scared that if they use the word suicide it will put ideas in a student’s head.  There is no research or evidence to prove that theory. In fact, asking a student directly if they have thought about killing themselves can actually open the door for them to share their feelings. I love this #vetoviolence video that challenged people to use 1 picture and 6 words to explain how we can all prevent suicide.

2. Create Connections

Research shows that one protective factor is feeling strong, positive connections to others. When you begin to brainstorm ideas for connectedness on campus think about the students on the “fringe”. There will always be kids who gravitate towards sports, the arts, or student council. You may need to think outside the box to find ways to spark connections. Reach out to staff members who can serve as mentors, not just teachers, but cafeteria workers, custodians, paraprofessionals, etc.  Empower your student body to step outside of their normal circle of friends and engage with others. One meaningful connection can make all the difference in the world to those who feel completely hopeless and isolated.

3. Model Resiliency

Professionalism is crucial in the field of education, but allowing students to see that we are all human can have value as well. Sharing instances where you or other respected adults have dealt with hardship and the strategies you applied to the situation can offer students alternatives to consider.  Present relatable issues that teens face and allow students to share positive strategies and solutions. The goal is to arm these children with ideas that can replace the knee-jerk reaction to resort to self-harm. Take a look at this new book by JC Pohl that addresses building student resiliency. Or CLICK HERE to download the first TWO chapters for free.

There is no quick-fix, magic button answer when it comes to addressing this crisis we face in regards to teen suicide rates.   We must be vigilant in our quest to raise awareness and promote prevention. We must focus our attention and efforts on bringing this epidemic to light and recognizing the warning signs.  You and the staff at your school are the “boots on the ground” and have the opportunity to create an atmosphere where students feel safe to speak their truth. As you walk down the halls, SEE THEM and HEAR THEM. You’ll be amazed what a difference you can make when that happens.  Here’s a free lesson that can be used to initiate the conversation about how safe and connected students honestly feel.

Penny Knight
Professional School Counselor, TEEN TRUTH

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