It is an unfortunate truth that by the time individuals reach adulthood most of us will have personally been affected by suicide. With the dramatic increase in child and adolescent suicide in recent years, it seems as though this truth will only become more prevalent.
The increase in mental health challenges for children and adolescents prior to COVID resulted in a dramatic increase in emergency room and hospital visits for self-harm or suicidal thoughts from 2016 to 2019. The full impact of COVID has yet to be fully recorded, but data indicates that while childhood hospitalizations decreased for almost all other conditions in 2020, hospitalizations for self-harm or suicidal thoughts did not fall.
As an educator, that information is troubling. As a parent, this trend terrifies me. What can we do, either in the school building or outside of the school building, to ensure that our children, the next generation, do not succumb to this fate?
Suicide, much like mental health in general, has long been a topic considered taboo- as if not talking about it will make “it” go away. However, like mental health challenges, the result is the individual feeling even more isolated and alone, with feelings of shame often coming along to perpetuate the cycle. Rather than continue to shove feelings of desperation, isolation, self-harm, and the myriad of other feelings that might lead someone to feel compelled to end his or her life, we must leverage the momentum around ending the stigma of mental health in order to open the conversations about suicide. If children and adolescents can share these feelings without fear of reprimand, shame, or being viewed differently by others, we can open the door to allow these conversations to happen before the child or teen reaches the point where they decide to take action.
Suicide Awareness Training For Families: Resources
- Talk to your child about mental health. Share your feelings with them- if you are sad, mad, happy, depressed- be open with them. Understanding that other people (especially people they are close to) experience a wide range of emotions can help validate young people’s feelings. Chapman University has a great parent’s guide to childhood mental health to help with those conversations.
- Watch for suicide warning signs in children and teens.
- Get help for your child if you notice signs of depression, anxiety, or other mental health needs. Contact a local mental health provider or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
- Ensure that any items such as guns, drugs, or alcohol are not accessible.
- Encourage physical exercise. Movement increases endorphins, which can improve mood.
First Steps & Resources For Suicide Awareness Training For Educators & School Administrators
- Create a classroom community that fosters a sense of belonging for all students.
- Establish an “open door” policy where students know they can confide in you. Be sure to help them understand the conditions in which you are obligated to notify others.
- Leverage your school, district, and community resources. Whether the school counselor, crisis liaison, Communities in Schools, other mental health professionals- bring in others who have expertise in the area.
- Include social emotional learning and mental health in your instruction- whether you utilize a curriculum, literature, or a variety, providing students with the tools to deal with challenges will increase resilience and problem-solving skills. CASEL has tremendous resources to support SEL instruction, and the Moving Forward Institute’s Reading with Relevance provides tools and materials to integrate SEL instruction into the literacy classroom.
Many organizations are doing great work supporting child and adolescent mental health to raise suicide awareness for schools and the general public. The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) and Mental Health.gov both have a wealth of mental health resources for parents, educators and communities.