Five suicides in the last six months, 2 of them from the school where I teach. Another from the university where I am an adjunct. I still don't know if I can find the right words to express my personal feelings or my deep condolences after these tragedies but this article convinced me that I must at least say something.
In addition to summarizing this tragic year, the article states that "Suicide is part of the culture our kids are growing up in" and that recent suicide prevention sessions have found that adults aren't comfortable discussing suicide. I'll admit I'm not comfortable right now...but if we don't break through our comfort zones to discuss it, then who's going to help our students through it? And let's not kid ourselves, depression and suicide plague many adults too. Who's going to help our adult friends through it when their adolescent nightmares revisit them?
Several of these students had adults who were already trying to help before they made their final decision, so I understand that talking won't guarantee suicide prevention, but I hope that if we create a community of openness and compassion, maybe we can make a difference. In the last six months, I've encouraged many students to talk with professionals but I've also tried to help them feel loved and supported because I believe that's what they need first and foremost. I've especially tried to encourage them with three main ideas:
-First, if you are struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, you are not alone. You are not weird or unworthy. Those feelings are not proof of the fact that something is wrong with you.
-Second, the fact that other people have experienced similar struggles does not invalidate your pain. No one should make you feel like your depression or your fears are any less powerful in your life simply because they have overcome their own.
-And third, the road through healing is often long and winding. Especially if you are dealing with your own depression after a loved one has died, you're not likely to "snap out of it" easily or anytime soon. On one hand, you should give yourself enough grace to allow time for healing. On the other hand, you shouldn't resign yourself to remaining in this current painful state; you must try to find the positive in the world around you so that you can allow yourself to begin to heal.
One of my students recently wrote me a letter that brought me to tears. She wrote about how her friend's death made her think about her own mortality and her own potential escape. But she also described the beauty of life and her new desire to look around and appreciate things that she once took for granted, like the way the sun shines on the trees and helps them grow, and the way the trees in turn provide for us.
If our society is going to truly help people overcome their own suicidal thoughts or recover after they've lost a loved one, if we are going to actually change the culture that today's teens are experiencing, we must be willing to help them face the questions of death and the beauties of life. It won't be a one time conversation; it will probably be a slow and difficult process that needs a lot of love and grace and compassion. There's no easy answer to the struggles our community faces right now, but it's important that people know we are facing it together.