In my career as a youth motivational speaker, it’s not often that an elementary school brings me in to speak – especially in the areas of mental health and suicide prevention. But this was exactly where I found myself early this month in East Quouge, New York – a community on Long Island.
This was part of a comprehensive three-day program for fifth and sixth graders, teachers, school staff and parents.
I don’t normally address this age group for a number of reasons. They say we want to talk about suicide and mental health, but to what degree? This is a tough age, and I was conflicted with what I know to say and how it would be received by teachers and parents. But when we had our initial phone call, we agreed that I would be a good fit.
These young kids were amazing. The administration was amazing. I asked the kids questions, and many of them raised their hands in full understanding of what I was talking about. To be frank, I toned things down to their level, but I didn’t sugarcoat anything either.
After that assembly, I was approached by a teacher with a student who wanted to chat. It didn’t take long to realize that this child was in crisis and asking for help. An hour later, this child was receiving much-needed help, and I couldn’t be prouder of this vulnerable student’s courage to speak up.
I was impressed with the administration. Some admitted that my message was a little deep and at times uncomfortable – and a couple of teachers were a bit shocked by my content. They didn’t realize how many of these young people related to the message.
It’s a strange feeling to have been aware of what these kids were thinking and feeling, while also knowing that their significant and trusted adults might have preferred to avoid the truth and shelter them because they were so young.
I was also conflicted because I wanted to be sure of my place. I was just a visitor planting seeds and explaining what I deal with every day.
I have a couple of questions…
Do you think having the truth spoken is more important than avoiding the subject because we think it’s too heavy? Do you think we should remain quiet because we don’t think a fifth grader doesn’t think about suicide? Do we think sixth graders are too young to be overwhelmed, anxious or stressful?
My three days in East Quogue were meaningful. I met with parents, individual students, and got to visit classrooms. I spent a day with the school psychologist. We had a substantially positive reaction to the message for this age group.
My heart is full. I am very thankful to have been invited to East Quogue. The lows and highs were a little too much for me, but we advanced the conversation about self-harm and teen mental health. We opened eyes and brought people together.
This is what matters.
Teen Mental Health Speaker: Jeff Yalden
Jeff Yalden is highly regarded as one of the top mental health experts in the world primarily focused on education and school communities working with teens, school administration, counselors, teachers, staff, parents and community leaders.
He’s a four-time best-selling author including his latest book, TEEN SUICIDE: The WHY Behind Today’s Suicide Epidemic.
His Podcast: Mental Health and Motivation continues to attract thousands of new subscribers every month for his direct talk and influence on today’s mental health conversations for teens and adults.
You can learn more about Jeff Yalden by visiting his website – www.JeffYalden.com. You can also learn more about Jeff’s Suicide Prevention Online Course for School Communities and Parents, Jeff Yalden University, and follow Jeff on YouTube and Social Media by clicking on the links below:
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