Teen Suicide and School Administration: Let’s Not Be Critical of How It’s Handled!
I receive another message of how the local community doesn’t agree with how school administration is handling a teen suicide in their community.
Recently, I visited a school district and spent two days after this community had decided they needed to do something after another teen suicide and the suicide of a staff member. Two wonderful days with middle school students and high school students, staff, teachers, counselors and parents.
Then I get an email from a local pastor who is critical of how the school administration is handling or not handling the teen suicide. It’s not a secret that teen suicide is a major problem in our schools and an epidemic in America. Learning what to do and how to address teen suicide by school administration doesn’t come with a certificate of completion and in my professional opinion shouldn’t be criticized by anyone. I feel that our community of parents, local organizations, and community leaders should support our school administration and counselors and build relationships so that we have more people that can be available and more resources if called upon in the event of a school crisis.
Jeff Yalden Responds to Local Pastor
First, I want to say I have great respect for pastors and our community leaders and applaud anyone wanting to serve and help. With that said, this is a message from a local pastor in the community I recently visited. Pastor for 17 years. Thank you. I can’t imagine being liked by a community when a pastor stands in front every week and preaches. Sometimes you challenge people and people don’t like that. Seventeen years deserves an applause.
Pastor states, “Sadly, I feel the school has put it’s head in the sand for years and refused to talk about things or do much to help.“
I’ve worked with school districts for more than three decades mostly on teen suicide and teen mental health. I feel I can add to this and provide some understanding. I’ve worked with students, families, counselors, teachers, and school administrators to include principals and superintendents. I’ve also worked with many a local pastors and mental health professionals. To each and every person I’ve worked with I’ve walked away having learned from them and also having given my heart and soul to what they’re having had to deal with and educating them to be more prepared and present in the event they have a crisis in their school community moving forward.
I’d like to respond to any faith based leader or community organization that feels schools don’t handle student suicides accordingly.
Sign up to take Teen Suicide Prevention Online Course for School Communities (CLICK HERE).
I can certainly tell you that I’ve never met a school administrator who has his or her head in the sand and is avoiding dealing with teen suicide or mental health challenges in their schools. I feel that is a strong statement coming with lack of compassion and empathy.
I’ll tell you that many of our school administrators are overwhelmed and wanting to make sure they act accordingly so that they proceed in a manner that protects and supports everyone where they are and with what they’re all going through with thoughts and feelings. Consider also, school administrators have to protect the family, the staff and teachers, and the students. Legally, they have to check boxes too. They are overwhelmed and most school communities don’t have a protocol to follow. They’re working on it though.
Please give compassion and grace to our schools. Our teachers, staff members, coaches, parents, and school administrators need support from one another. Just as our students do. To criticize is wrong. To be supportive and advocate would be acting with grace and compassion. This is new to our school administrators and they’re all learning.
Principals and Superintendents Don’t Receive Certificates for Teen Suicide
One of the very first things I can tell you is that no administrator is given a certificate on how to deal with the loss of one of their students or staff members by suicide. Let’s have some grace and understand the pressure they feel when the principals and superintendent has to make decisions based on what they think is best for their staff, the families, and the students in the here and the now, but also as they all move forward as a community.
You’d be amazed at how many mental health professionals, doctors and nurses don’t even know how to do a proper suicide assessment. 85% of people who do assessments aren’t properly trained to do an effective suicide assessment and we are criticizing our school administration? I think that is wrong.
What could make a difference is how we all normalize the conversation and silence the stigma that would allow us to feel better about learning and educating ourselves with teen mental health and suicide. Do you even know the difference between mental health challenges and mental health crisis?
A challenge is when your emotions, behaviors, feelings and thoughts are being affected. Whereas, a crisis is when what’s being affected now results in a person wanting to hurt themselves or someone else.
Teen Suicide: An Epidemic in America
Teen suicide continues to be a serious problem that our schools are having to deal with. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24 years old. The leading cause of suicide amongst young people who attempt suicide is a significant mental health disorder, usually depression.
Amongst younger teens suicide is often impulsive. This is a result of feelings of sadness, confusion, anger, or problems with attention and hyperactivity. Amongst teenagers though, suicide attempts are mostly associated with feelings of stress, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, disappointment and loss. For some teens, suicide appears to be a solution to their problems.
Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable mental disorders. Please don’t self diagnose your child if you have concerns about their mental health. As always say, “five out of five people have physical health and five out of five people also have mental health.” Do not be ashamed and take all signs seriously.
Suicide Prevention in Schools
I feel that the one to two hours of suicide prevention in schools that has been mandated isn’t enough. With that being said, I’m thankful that our school communities are trying to do the best they can to incorporate mental health into their every day lessons. It’s going to take time, but I will tell you that we are making great improvement and I applaud our schools. Let’s all get behind them and show our support.
The first thing I tell a school administrator is that their number one priority is to take care of their teachers and staff members. It’s the teachers and the staff members that have to be with the students who are grieving. Teachers, coaches, staff know the students best and students are best in school being with their trusted and significant adults.
Also consider when a suicide happens and how that affects how a school responds. You have to understand that no suicide is treated the same. Whether it is a suicide that happened over summer break, vacation, during school hours, a middle school student or a high school student. People are affected differently and its effect on the school community is also different. Nonetheless, the loss of one of our students is crippling and emotionally heartbreaking for our school staff, friends, and most of all the families. Suicide is the most preventable form of death and we all have a responsibility to normalize the conversation and silence the stigma.
A school administrator has to be responsible for the messages that their teachers and students are getting and who is giving the messages. Being proactive as a school community doesn’t mean finding every local resource and inviting them into the school to talk about teen mental health and suicide prevention. Can you imagine someone coming in and not knowing how to address teen suicide and the consequences of their words, opinions, and how it’s perceived by the students and the staff? That happens all the time.
It’s not that administrators don’t want help, but in the case of dealing with suicide maybe less is more. Less is more because there are so many factors to consider and address. School administrators don’t have the experience or education, but they’re asking questions and reaching out to their local administrators in other communities as to what they might have done if they’ve had a student suicide.
If you ask me, a school administrator is dammed if they do and dammed if they don’t. They’re not going to make everyone happy with how they dealt with it. What matters most is that they communicate and seek the professional advice from a close circle of experienced professionals.
A Pastors Role with Suicide in the Community
Every faith community has someone who has been affected by suicide in a personal way. Therefore, the topic of mental health and suicide has come into our churches and in my opinion our church community has a great responsibility to be talking more about mental health and suicide. We need more people to normalize the conversation and encourage their congregation to speak about thoughts and feelings. Again, silence the stigma.
Pastors and clergy members play a significant role as families and people move through the grieving process after a loss or a suicide. They’re anchors and a source of hope for survivors and people in recovery. A pastor must be supportive, compassionate, empathetic, nurturing, and a guide in helping people move forward. Pastors are a great source to the community and do very well for people in crisis. Pastors are a valuable support to everyone.
However, a title doesn’t make you the expert and the logical person to call when it comes to school administration and counselors. They’re good. They’re doing their best and our job is to support them doing the best they can with the information they have and protecting the school community.
That being said, here is my main point and the one tip I want to offer anyone wanted to work with their school community.
Build that relationship with the school administration, counselors, parents, etc. The time to say, “I’m a great resource isn’t after a crisis.” The time is now. Volunteer. Serve. Get involved. Attend events. Show your support. Get to know the staff. Now that you’ve done all that they’ll know who you are and in the unfortunate event of a crisis the school administration and counselors will know you’re a great resource and if needed will reach out to you. If they don’t reach out to you, you can reach out to them because they’ll know you and trust you to support them as needed. Build the relationship now so that you can serve when they need you the most.
In conclusion, what I want to say is that a pastor or anyone should try and contact the school administration and discuss ahead of time how they can be a source of help. Being proactive is building relationships. That is what is important and when that relationship is built our school community will know who they can call upon in the event of a crisis.
What a pastor and local organizations can do is support the school administrations and staff. Support your parents and the community (your congregation) as best you can. Be comfortable talking with your people about mental health and suicide. It’s important we all play a role in our circle of trusted friends and families. We are all a part of the much needed conversation to normalize the conversation around mental health and silence the stigma.
Together we can serve one another.