A. Grace Martin

Author, Student Teacher, Optimist and Promoter of Self-Empowerment


Talking About the Uncomfortable Subject: Suicide

Posted by agracemartin on February 9, 2015 at 6:40 PM

Teenagers experience emotions much more intensely than adults do. Throughout the teen and young adult years, the prefrontal cortext is developing. In adults, the prefrontal cortext is responsible for decision-making and puts the brakes on our emotional center, called the amygdala. Since this is still developing in teens, they FEEL every situation more intensely. This is why teens always say, "adults just don't get it," because as adults we tend to forget how difficult it was for us to grow up. As adults, we tend to look back upon our teen years as melodramatic and juvenile, but that attitude de-values the experience of teenagers. If a teen tells you that they feel bad, don't tell them to "suck it up," but rather be understanding and give them tools to deal with their emotions.

Suicide is a very uncomfortable subject. In my Social Context class today, we had a presentation about suicide geared towards what teachers need to know. I really appreciated their approach to this topic because it was focussed on making students feel acknowledged, cared for, and open to talk. If someone has personal issues or experience with this topic then it can bring up a lot of intense emotions. As educators, we need to recognize that approaching this topic must be done with sensitivity.

I recently watched a Ted talk called Why We Choose Suicide (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D1QoyTmeAYw) by Mark Henick in which he shared his struggles. While watching this video I felt pretty down by talking about such a sad and intense sob story. It brought up sad memories and I started reliving struggles as a teenager. In junior high (middle school) I struggled with suicide, and later in high school I helped friends through similar struggles with suicide. As I watched and listened, I was waiting for Mark to get to the message of hope. It didn't come in the way I expected. Mark Henick brought up the idea of "collapsed perceptions." I think that understanding "collapsed perceptions" is an important part of helping individuals who are suicidal. Mark asked: how can suicide be a choice when the person doesn't think they have any other option?

What I find to be most important when talking about suicide is not the sob story, statistics, or statement of how dangerous suicide is. What I find to be the single most important thing to include in suicide prevention talks is changing the way that we think about suicide. As Mark Henick argues, changing the way you think changes the world. Thinking about and discussing suicide is a very uncomfortable topic, but talking about it might just save someone's life.

In the future, I am sure that I will deal with suicide issues in my classroom. I am comfortable with this topic because I have lived through it, helped others through it, and become a stronger person for overcoming negative thoughts and self-talk.

The thing that I want to talk about with my future students is that they have a wonderful potential within them. They deserve to overcome the tough times. They have an amazing life purpose that they haven't discovered yet, but when they do will give out and get back so much more happiness than they've ever experienced. Many great people have faced tough times; they are not alone. They are also not alone in getting help. Teachers, counsellors, family and community resources are available to help, and it doesn't make them "weak" to access these resources. The main thing is to never give up hope. 

Teachers: reach out, ask if a student you are concerned about is suicidal, acknowledge their emotions and pain, show them you care, and talk with them about how you can help. With compassion you can ask, "are you thinking about killing yourself?" and ask "what can I do to help you?" Never promise to keep it a secret because you are legally bound to report this to the counsellor and administration, but assure the student that their peers do not have to know. You are there to help them, not publicize their feelings. Thank them for coming to you and opening up to you.

In short, the presentation I watched in Social Context class today summarized what to do with three simple words in the acronym, A.C.T.





Categories: Teaching Blog , Acceptance and Tolerance

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