As a Master of Social Work student, my first field placement was at an acute mental health inpatient facility on an adolescent unit. Each day I went to my placement, I saw an increasing number of rotating teenagers coming into the hospital due to suicidal ideation or a suicide attempt.
My experience in the adolescent unit showed me just how much suicide affects the teen population. As a result, I have become an advocate for education on, and the prevention of, suicide.
Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in America. For every person who dies by suicide, more than 30 others attempt it. While this is the case for the general population in the United States, suicide is the third leading cause of death for those 12-18 years old.
Recently in the news, there have been many articles discussing suicide and reporting on the numerous college students who have died by it. These stories are bringing this epidemic to the forefront.
Every suicide attempt and death affects countless other individuals. Family members, friends, coworkers, and others in the community all suffer the long-lasting consequences of suicidal behaviors.
The problem stems from lack of education. Children and adolescents are unaware of the signs and symptoms; therefore, they are unable to distinguish between suicidal thoughts and other emotions. School-aged children do not know how to get help, which numbers to call, or where to go if they need assistance.
Therefore, education on suicide and certain mental illnesses should be taught in a health course. We are allowed to teach information regarding alcoholic beverages, sexually transmitted diseases, and more to inform our children. Bringing awareness to suicide in an informational way will help people become more knowledgeable and aware of the signs, symptoms and resources available for help.
Adolescents are impulsive and reactive. If students were taught safety and resources surrounding suicide they would at least know what to do if their depression, anxiety or stress overwhelms them to an “I can’t take it anymore” level. Schools need to incorporate suicide and mental health education in their health class curricula.
This does not need to be a psychology class. It should include the mental illnesses of anxiety and depression and how to recognize suicidal ideation. Every student at one point in their school career will at least feel anxious, whether it be over a boy or girl, schoolwork, or being late to school.
Depression and anxiety can become so overwhelming to some people that the only way they know how to get away from the feeling is to contemplate or attempt suicide. We need to teach our children that suicide is not the answer.
For any student, parent or friend reading this and thinking they know someone who is suicidal, please call this number: 1-800-273-TALK (8255). It is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also visit suicidepreventionlifeline.org to learn about suicide, the help you can receive, and a practical tool kit to help school staff manage the situation in the aftermath of suicide.
Let’s start talking and making a toolkit of preventative measures for suicide awareness so we do not have to use the toolkit for any more aftermath management. What may be out of sight may not actually be out of mind.