It’s another day, but today’s hurt hit hard.
I was in McLean, Virginia where I just did two back-to-back one hour and thirty minute assemblies to 2,000 students in a high school gymnasium. The energy was awesome. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
I finally got out of school to have an hour to myself before I had to head over to Langley High School for my third program of the day. This is when the craziness happened. The minute I turned on my cell phone it was adrenaline and anxiety.
First, I am getting messages of kindness and gratitude for my video to Olathe Northwest High School, where just days ago two teen girls on the girls soccer team and friends, in Olathe, Kansas, had committed suicide within 48 hours of each other. Those messages make me smile. But, there were two messages asking, “Why?” And, “What can we do now?” Those messages hurt because it’s not NOW that we need to do something is the question to be asking. It’s everyday we should be doing something.
Then, I get a Facebook message about another suicide last night at The Pine School in Hobe Sound, Florida. This one was personal and hit my heart. In August, I was brought in to help answer questions from parents and the community and to inspire the high school students getting them focused back to education. We needed to move forward after three weeks of grieving for the loss of a beloved classmate and student council president who without no signs or warnings, made a decision to end his life without leaving anything behind. This devastated the school community of this private, very affluent, quaint little school. It was tough and then I was getting Facebook messages and calls from the parents I had met who’ve become friends.
Next, I went through what I went through back in 1992. Although I wasn’t present in person, I was on the phone when I heard the gunshot.
I didn’t know this person. She called in on my 800# thinking this was the Suicide Hotline. It wasn’t, but I didn’t want to let her go. She was crying and needed help at that moment.
The call came in from a Missouri number and I hear, “Wait, the caller on the line just hung up.” The call comes in again. “Hello?”, I said. They hung up again. Then a third call from a different number in Missouri and it’s this lady crying thinking she got the Suicide Hotline. I put everything down and gave my full attention to this lady. I got her name. She was 32 years old living in St. Louis, MO. I got her to breathe and close her eyes and said, “Jessica, I want to help you. I need you to stay with me and we can work through this together.”
A police officer was coming in my rearview mirror. I flagged him down immediately. While on the phone with this young lady he listened from three feet away.
I needed to calm her down and go through my training before giving her the correct number or better yet knowing in my heart she was going to seek help immediately. I wanted to get all her information so I could do my part from 1,000 miles away.
“I want to help you. I can help you.” I said. We talked for about two minutes when I asked her if she had a plan and if she wanted to die. Her response, “Yes!” I replied, “Do you have a plan as to what you would do and do you have any weapons or drugs in the house now?” Her reply, “Yes!” I stayed calm. I needed her to talk more. I needed to let her know I cared and that it is common to feel pain, but we could work through this and get her help. I asked her if she had a counselor that she sees and could call. I heard silence. “Hello?” I said . . .
I heard a gun shot! There was a silence like I’ve never heard before. It was real. Oh God!
I called the police in St. Louis, MO and told them the ladies name, age, and gave them the phone number. I took a minute and closed my eyes while I took a few deep breaths.
I looked at the officer and he looked at me. He said, “You did a great job! You tried.”
Then I got an email from Garry Sullivan, Assistant Principal at The Pine School and he told me about the boy from his school that committed suicide last night. Said the boy tried calling him twice yesterday afternoon, but his phone didn’t ring. At 9:30 pm he shot himself in the head. Mr. Sullivan felt he could have prevented this suicide. Maybe he could have, but maybe he couldn’t have. We will never know, but we can’t look back and wonder, “If only!”
So, it was a tough day, but on the positive side, I impacted 3,000 high school students in two schools. This is what I do!
I was given a gift from above to Touch Hearts . . . Change Lives! Maybe even save lives too. I have learned that some lives we can’t save and as insensitive as that might sound, I have come to accept it is true. That won’t stop me from trying.
Our Job . . .
So, let’s assume we are all responsible for the morale and spirit within our buildings. Let’s call us Gatekeepers. We can open the gate to someone’s heart with four simple steps to preventing teen suicide. We are Change Agents too. We change lives because we care and we influence others with our kindness and compassion.
I encourage you to find the courage to be aware and to get involved when you need to. Know that you can make a difference and possibly save a life. Know that someone you know could be hurting and they want to know that somebody does care.
Here are four tips that can prevent a suicide from happening and a school from having to deal with the pain and heartache. Suicide doesn’t free a person from the pain. It just transfers the pain to someone else and now they have to have the courage to pick up the pieces and deal with the loss, let alone now get the help they need. Suicide transfers pain from one to another. Suicide is a permanent action to a temporary situation, in most cases. In most cases, suicide can be prevented.
So, let’s get to the point of this blog post. The speed of hurt today for a teen is unfathomable and needs to be taken seriously. Parents, teachers, coaches, community members, and students need to understand how they can help and what they can do.
ACTION PLAN for the Gatekeeper and Change Agents
Let’s assume we are all ready to take on the role of Gatekeeper or Change Agent. We are on alert to a friend or peer that might be hurting and we want to help in the best way we can. Here is what we do:
Identify the Person – Perhaps, you know or see someone that is in pain and doesn’t seem to be their normal self. Now, you have identified someone as a person that potentially, could harm themselves, and you feel you should go to the next step. It takes courage, but all you are doing is saying, “I care about you! I want to help if I can.”
90% of suicides happen where there is a mental disorder or illness that is present within the person. Most of the time it’s depression.
Know the Signs or Symptoms of Teen Depression
Among them are:
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Losing interest in social and extracurricular activities
- Lack of energy
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Feelings of sadness for much of the time
- Significant weight fluctuations
- Sleep pattern changes
- Physical pains and aches, or sickness, even though there is nothing physically wrong
- Indifference about the future
- Afraid of being a burden
- Uncharacteristic pessimism
Causes of Teen Suicide
As I stated earlier, there are several different factors that may lead a person to take his or her life, but the most common is depression. Feelings of hopelessness and anxiety, along with feelings of being trapped in a life that one can’t handle, are very real contributors to teen suicide. In some cases, teenagers believe that suicide is the only way to solve their problems. The pressures of life seem too much to cope with, and some teenagers look at suicide as a welcome escape of the pain, but really the pain just transfers to another person.
Other factors that may contribute to Teen Suicide include:
- Divorce of parents
- Violence in the home
- Inability to find success at school
- Feelings of worthlessness
- Rejection by friends or peers
- Substance abuse
- Death of someone close to the teenager
- The suicide of a friend or someone he or she “knows” online
Signs that your teenager may attempt suicide
It is important to be on the look out for signs that a person may attempt suicide. What is so difficult about some of these warning signs of suicide is that some of them are similar to normal adolescent behavior. The teenage years are a trying time, and sometimes, normal behavior looks a lot like possibly destructive behavior. But it doesn’t hurt to look into the following warning signs of teen suicide:
- Talks about death and/or suicide (maybe even with a joking manner)
- Plans ways to kill him or herself
- Expresses worries that nobody cares about him or her
- Has attempted suicide in the past
- Dramatic changes in personality and behavior
- Withdraws from interacting with friends and family
- Shows signs of depression
- Shows signs of a substance abuse problem
- Begins to act recklessly and engage in risk-taking behaviors
- Begins to give away sentimental possessions
- Spends time online interacting with people who glamorize suicide and maybe even form suicide pacts
Now that you’ve identified a person and you’ve chosen to take the next step you move to question the person.
Question the Person – This is where you question the individual you suspect might be hurting inside. You address this person one on one with an open heart and kindness. Never come across as you are challenging or being above and speaking at to the person. Come to this person as a caring person that is concerned and express the desire to help or listen.
As you address this person you let them know you want to listen and that you are there for them. This has to be done in a compassionate way where you are showing you are interested in their story and you are willing to listen and do what you can. Be patient and open your heart. You are trying to get their trust. If they aren’t willing to talk, be patient and maybe ask some lead in questions. Don’t come straight out with, “You aren’t going to kill yourself, are you?” Get the person relaxed. Talk about life, school, pressures, friends, etc. Then, maybe a safe question would be, “Do you ever just want to go to bed and never wake up?”
It’s trust and it takes time. You can do so much by just talking and working to earn their trust. Don’t leave the person unless you are sure they are ok.
If you have a sense that you can’t get through to their heart, but clearly feel in your gut that you are unsure, please talk to a trusted adult, counselor, or professional right away. This is the right thing to do and the person will appreciate you caring and wanting what is best for this person. We have that responsibility and that should be taken seriously. Get help immediately.
Pursuade – When you have invested your heart and time with this person and they have opened up to you it’s now time to move onto persuading them to seek professional help.
You open your heart and talk about how a professional can help you sort through some of the craziness or anxiety they might be feeling or experiencing. Encourage them that parents help their kids, coaches help their athletes, teachers help their students, and counselors help their clients. It’s perfectly normal to feel emotions, confusion, and stress. It’s also perfectly normal to need to talk to somebody. We can’t expect to fix all of life’s problems on our own. Asking for help and seeking help is a good thing and will help the person feel better as a result.
Be honest. Be open. Share from your heart. Maybe even tell your story. Share the time that maybe you’ve had help for something you dealt with. This is a very critical step and it’s important to the whole process of possibly saving a life. Don’t leave the person unless you have trust and a verbal commitment that they are going to talk to someone immediately. Get that verbal commitment if you absolutely have to leave the person in this point of the conversation.
Refer – You have just persuaded this person to seek professional help. Now, it is time to refer them to someone and you should walk with them finding help for the person.
In the immediate future, find a trusted adult. If you are in school, I recommend a counselor or the nurse. Or, walk to the office and find an administrator. From there they will be in the right hands with a more professional person who will address the issue from that point, but you’ve done your work and you should be proud.
You shouldn’t handle this on your own as a Gatekeeper and Change Agent. We are the vehicle from identifying the person to taking the person where they get professional help. This is a very important role.
If at home via email, text, or social media – I would encourage the following steps:
After the Identifying of the person . . .
Question – Never via text or typing. Always get the person on the phone or go and visit person face to face.
Persuade – Again, never via text or typing. You have come to the point where you have to persuade someone to seek help immediately. Go to your parents. Contact their parents. Get to the person right away. Don’t own it and think you could be the HERO. There are trained professionals who need to be involved at this critical point. Remember, it is absolutely the RIGHT THING TO DO.
Refer – By telling your parents or the person’s parents you are referring them to help and because you are not present this is the best thing. The parents will know what to do and will take the necessary steps to contact a professional.
Know the Suicide Hotline Number – 800-273-TALK (8255). Get the help immediately because at this point it is critical and should be taken seriously. You will be thanked and appreciated for stepping in and being the Gatekeeper. You are a Change Agent with courage to do the right thing.
If nobody is around and you are at a loss of what to do in the moment, please call the Suicide Hotline at 800–273–TALK (8255). Add this number to your contacts in your smartphone. If you are at a complete loss, you can always call 911 and stay with the person.
Suicide Hotline – 800-273-TALK (8255)
Who is Jeff Yalden?
Jeff Yalden is a youth motivational speaker and facilitator of Suicide Prevention Trainings. Jeff has worked with youth, educators, and families for 23 years. He’s the author of Your Life Matters, a radio show host of The Jeff Yalden Show and has a Podcast – Encouraging Parents & Inspiring Teens.
Since 1992, Jeff has traveled 50 states and 48 countries mesmerizing teen audiences with his heartfelt message about Love, Life, and Living. He’s delivered his talk in over 4,000 high schools and middle schools, colleges and universities. He’s been the keynote speaker for hundreds of leadership conferences talking to teens about personal leadership and your influence on others.
Jeff Yalden is an advocate for mental health and teen depression. Being a person that has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety disorder, bi-polar type 2, and PTSD, Jeff is passionate about sharing his story and inspiring those in a position to help and inspire others.
Jeff is engaging, charismatic, and real. Your community will be delighted to host Jeff for your teens and parents or a Staff In-Service Training on how to identify, question, persuade, and refer a potential suicidal student to get help. Your audience will laugh, think, and reflect, but ultimately they will leave cheering themselves and their kids on. For more information, visit www.JeffYalden.com. and www.JeffYalden.com/suicide-prevention-training.
I have a friend who struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts, so thanks for sharing your story and tips to prevent this from happening. I like that you suggest not trying to handle suicides on your own and instead reach out to professional help. If things continue like this, then I’ll be sure to find help from someone.