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How Teachers Can Prevent Student Suicide

Laura Preble

 

How Teachers Can Prevent Student SuicideStudent suicides is an unfortunate reality that the high school where I teach has experienced first-hand on more than one occasion.

 

When it happens in my school, I can't help but ask myself: what’s happened?  How can we make it stop?


My Experience with Student Suicide

A week ago, I noticed one of my students was acting…well…odd. He had always been a good student, very engaged, and suddenly he was tired, sullen, and distracted. When I asked him why he just said he hadn’t slept for three weeks. He had no idea why.

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I contacted his counselor, just to give her a heads up. Two days later, I got an email from her telling me that he had been admitted to a psychiatric hospital because there was a fear he might hurt himself.

 

My heart stopped when I read this. The fact that I just happened to notice and mentioned it and that the counselor just happened to follow up led to this intervention might have saved a life, a precious life, the life of someone I know very well. It was all random, just a quick mention, just a tiny feeling that something wasn’t right. How precarious.

 

At my high school, we’ve had three suicides within eight months. We’ve had several more attempts, or, in a few lucky cases, interventions. But why? What is going on that makes kids think that dying is the best option?  I think back to my own high school days. Sure, it was rough. Nobody felt like they belonged. There were pressures, stress, and too much to do with not enough time, but I don’t think I ever knew a student who went to such drastic measures. 

 

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 15-24. Among young people 10-14, the rate has doubled over the last two decades.

  • “Every 15 minutes someone dies by suicide. It remains the 11th leading cause of death in this country. Though suicide attempts are not reported, it is estimated that close to one million people make a suicide attempt each year,” states the AFSP website.

Does Bullying Contributing to Teen Suicide?

One trend that researchers have noticed is an increased amount of bullying, both in person and through technology. As the use of technology has increased, so has the opportunity to bully others, often anonymously and without repercussions. According to Cyberbullying Research Center, an organization dedicated to researching and curbing cyberbullies, over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying. More than one in three have been threatened online, and more than 25 percent have been bullied repeatedly, either online or through texting.

 

I can’t help but wonder if the miraculous use of technology has harmed society in this area. Imagine that you are a teenager, and you are instantly and constantly at the mercy of anyone who feels even the slightest bit peeved at you. The person can write any scandalous thing they want online, or send you a nasty text, and no one is often the wiser. If it happened every day, or frequently enough, it could lead to depression and eventually more dire consequences.

 

The Dangers of Electronics Addiction

As a teacher, I notice that my students are addicted to electronics and to constantly being plugged in. They must answer texts. They must check their Facebook status every hour. I’ve been threatened when I’ve taken a phone or an iPod, as if I’m taking crack from a junkie. They must know what everyone thinks about every move, and they must comment on every else’s movements and thoughts. Is this so they can prove that they really exist? And in doing that, do some of them fall into the trap of believing that these meaningless pixels prove anything?

 

I’m certainly no expert on suicide, even though I’ve had a much closer relationship to it lately than I’d care to have. Losing several students within months is heartbreaking to everyone at our school, even to those who didn’t know the students personally. I can't help but wonder if we are inching further and further from our humanity with every cyber connection we make, and somehow those connections are breaking down responsibility and personal contact, and compassion. Maybe if teenagers had fewer opportunities to live in the cyber world, they’d find more to like in the real one.

 

Watch for Suicide Warning Signs

According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, here is a list of warning signs of a suicidal adolescents:

  • *change in eating and sleeping habits

  • *withdrawal from friends, family, and regular activities

  • *violent actions, rebellious behavior, or running away

  • *drug and alcohol use

  • *unusual neglect of personal appearance

  • *marked personality change persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating, or a decline in the quality of schoolwork

  • *frequent complaints about physical symptoms, often related to emotions, such as stomachaches, headaches, fatigue, etc.

  • *loss of interest in pleasurable activities not tolerating praise or rewards

A teenager who is planning to commit suicide may also:

  • *complain of being a bad person or feeling rotten inside

  • *give verbal hints with statements such as: I won't be a problem for you much longer, Nothing matters, It's no use, and I won't see you again put his or her affairs in order, for example, give away favorite possessions, clean his or her room, throw away important belongings, etc. become suddenly cheerful after a period of depression

  • *have signs of psychosis (hallucinations or bizarre thoughts)

If you notice any of your students exhibiting this behavior, reach out to that student, his/her parents and a school counselor to express your concerns and get him/her help!


Have you experienced dealing with suicidal students? How did you handle it? If not, how would you handle it? Share in the comments section!