Teaching Mental Health to High School Students

In The Trenches of Teen Mental Health

Teen suicide is at epidemic proportions.

I’ve been working in the trenches of teen mental health for three decades. With all my education, training and experience, I have never come across anything that benefited his work than a theory developed by Dr. Thomas Joiner, a professor at Florida State University.

His theory is so important to me that I covered it at length in my book, Teen Suicide: The “Why” Behind America’s Suicide Epidemic.

Joiner published this theory in 2005, in an article entitled “The Interpersonal-Psychological Theory of Suicidal Behavior: Current Empirical Status.”

His theory points to two feelings that contribute to suicide:

“I am alone.”

“I am a burden.”

To Joiner, this is all about a sense of thwarted belongingness (I am alone) – or a belief that an individual doesn’t have any meaningful relationships. Often, this is coupled with perceived burdensomeness (I am a burden), representing an assumption that the individual in question is a liability who makes no notable contributions in the world.

Feeling isolated or as if you are a burden can create the desire for suicide – and take heed, this desire can quickly become the capability for suicide.

Joiner put it like this:

“The capability for suicide is acquired largely through repeated exposure to painful or fearsome experiences. This results in habituation and, in turn, a higher tolerance for pain and a sense of fearlessness in the face of death.”

This is as heavy as heavy gets – and habituation is a fancy term for getting used to something. How sad that many of our young people are getting used to scary or painful situations. This needs to stop.

I became a fan of Dr. Joiner as I got into researching the topic of teen suicide.

Why do so many teens feel so hopeless?

Teens Don’t Want to Die

I believe that even the most troubled teens don’t want to die. What they really want is a solution to their problems – perceived or real. Many feel that the solution is too far out of reach to solve in the here-and now – and this prevents them from moving forward.

Sometimes a problem seems so weighty and the solution so evasive that the next step seems to be for a teen to develop a desire for suicide.

It’s important that our teens understand that life is not just about the here and the now. There is a reason for the cliché, “time heals all wounds.” I don’t think all wounds can be healed simply with the passing of time, but you understand what I mean.

If a teen can get out of the sometimes-crushing sense of immediacy, they might just see an issue more clearly in the future and begin to work on a solution with the help of a trusted adult.

Teens don’t know what they don’t know. There is no way for them to know what the future can hold. There’s no way for any of us to know that, despite our best-laid plans.

Suicide is very rarely the result of one thing, but one thing can certainly be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.


It’s difficult for many teenagers to communicate, share their feelings or trust the circle of adults in their lives. I believe that this comes from a lack of self-esteem.  I also believe that boosting a child’s self-esteem is the number-one way to help them.

Positive self-esteem comes from overcoming challenges and comes from social interaction. It comes from involvement with friends and blossoms with family relationships.

Help your teen set goals. Give them the leeway to accomplish tasks. This will develop their coping and problem-solving skills. Self-esteem is something we build every day as a result of being more active in our world.


NOTE: The above content is Part Six in a series based on Jeff’s new book, Teen Suicide: The “Why” Behind America’s Suicide Epidemic. Click on link to order.

To book Jeff for your school, event or conference, call 800-948-9289.

CLICK HERE for Jeff’s online suicide prevention course.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *