Your Role in Teen Suicide Prevention

8:50 AMHeather

I sat across from her at a coffee shop to catch up. She's had a hard year. She lost a very good friend to suicide just a few months ago. He was one of two boys at my son's high school who committed suicide this year. 

The school responded with grief counselors. The district is continually working to open up the dialog about teen suicide, from informational meetings with parents to seeking out other resources.

Here's why her burden is so heavy.

It's not just the grief of what did happen and the loss that did occur.

It's the innocence lost.

It's the fear ignited.

Because whether a teen--or anyone, for that matter--succeeds in suicide attempts, it changes everything.

The statistic becomes a person. The statistic hits home. You become the statistic. And the distant and impersonal numbers that represent some objective non-entity become personal.

And I cannot imagine the fear and vigilance and post traumatic stress of wondering if it could happen again. Watching for every little red flag. Precariously dangling forevermore on the edge of a cliff.

When a suicide attempt or loss intersects your life.

I have friends who live this out every single day of their lives in their family.

And this darling teenager that I sat across from this last week is trying to learn to live with the trauma. To live with the fear.

She didn't just lose one friend when the unimaginable happened.

But she continues to hear and know of people who are struggling with the idea of attempting suicide. Or even threatening to do it.

She will never take it lightly. She will never dismiss it. She will never rationalize and justify her way out of believing it might happen. It could happen.

Because she knows all too well that you just never know. You cannot dismiss it, ever.

Like any great tragedy in life, once you know someone who makes up the number--be it cancer or drunk driving or suicide--you lose the luxury of living with the naivety that it could never happen to you.

It's overwhelming. It's a great burden to carry, day in and day out.

It keeps you up at night. It haunts your day time and your night time hours.

And I see the strain of it in her eyes.

So I asked her what she thought the school was missing in this battle. What was her insight on what is lacking to combat this epidemic?

Her answer?

Connection.

While there is no easy answer and there is no quick fix, she sees that one huge area lacking here is connection. These kids do not feel connected. 

Particularly powerful, they do not feel the adults around them connecting to them to help them carry the heavy weight of the things that are draining the hope right out of them.



It's not some massive research. It's not some great big study. It's just the opinion of one person in the very middle of the battle. And it's not a cure. But it is a step in the right direction.

She's saying that connection is powerful. And lacking. 

The vaccum left in its absence can actually tip the scales.

In her humble opinion.

And I cannot shake her insight. I cannot quit thinking of her friend whose parents are not connected, while this friend juggles the weight of high school and academics and peer relationships and the pressure of thinking about her future. It makes the friend feel as though no one would even care if she wasn't around.

For the teens who know someone who is struggling -- they feel as though they are carrying the weight of the world for their peers in this life or death matter.

What a difference it makes when an adult steps in to say that they have your back. That you aren't alone.

Look, I know that teaching is a difficult and noble profession. Being a school counselor is a big job. Parenting is hard and challenging. 

But here's the thing. 

One thing that can make a world of difference in the life of a teenager on the edge is the one thing that takes just a little bit of effort to offer.

Connection. Taking time to pour life affirming words and presence into the lives of teenagers.

Because we never know the burdens and battles they are facing.

We never know what is going on behind the smiles and the popularity and the extracurricular involvement. We might make assumptions about the smart kids and the athletes and even the church going.

But the truth is, there may never be outward signs of great distress. It may be that the masters of masquerade are the ones in greatest danger.

So, while it's a monumental fight for the lives of teenagers in our world today, and there are no quick fixes or easy answers, we do all have a small part to play.

We do all have a role in teen suicide prevention.

Here's what it is.

If you know a teenager, ever talk to a teenager, interact with a teenager at any level and for any amount of time, here's what you can do in this battle.

Speak life affirming words into them. I'm not saying to be fake. But I am saying to always assume that everyone you meet is fighting their own battles and trying to slay their own dragons. So take every opportunity to encourage them and listen to them and be present with them. Be diligent to avoid tearing them down. As I tell my children, the Bible tells us to build each other up and not tear each other down.

So let's do that.

Let's take every chance we can to remember that the gift of connection costs very little, besides our time and attention. 

Yet its value can be life changing. 

Let's take time to look the teenagers in our lives in the eye. To ask them how they are and show genuine interest. To show up for them. To show up for their events. To play a game or go grab a cup of coffee or a meal together. To take time out of our calendar for them. To remind them that they aren't alone in the world and their presence and their giftedness and their contributions are appreciated and noted. That we don't dismiss or look down upon the things that are stressors to them.

I know I'm oversimplifying things. I know it's complicated and complex. 

But I also know that we have the power, as adults, to make a difference. And we can get so caught up in our own personal struggles that we underestimate the weight of other people's hardships.

Particularly teeagers. Who are in a fragile and hard place in life. Not yet adults, but not kids either. And teenagers these days are dealing with in-your-face pressure that we could not fathom in our day. Technology and media is relentless. Messages are streaming in real time to our teens about how to define success and popularity...and value and worth.

So, let's not lose sight of the gift of connection. Of seeking to connect with teenagers in a way that reminds them that we see them and they are important. That they have much to offer and it does not go unnoticed.

It's not too tricky, really. For a teacher or counselor to just offer a smile or an encouragement, instead of dismissing the teenagers they deal with daily. It may be a bad day for you...but it may be a day on the edge, literally, for them.

It's not too difficult to just check in on the teens we know. To send a text with a Bible verse and a reminder that they are on our mind. Or stop by their social media feed to congratulate them on some accomplishment or encourage them with their studies or pursuits. To just do whatever we can to convey that we see them.

That they are seen.

That they are heard.

That they are important and noticed.

And they have value and worth to us.

That they are loved to death by a Heavenly Father who spared no expense for them.

Yes, I may be oversimplifying things.

But I really do believe that my teenage friend speaks with wisdom when she says that one thing she thinks teenagers need more of today is connection.

In a world of technology, teens have fake connections that are a poor substitute for actual connections. And we all stay way too busy. So, we have to be intentional to offer for-real connections to those in our lives.

It may not solve the problem of teen suicide.

But it's a step in the right direction.

And we can never undestimate the power of our time and attention and the worth that it conveys to others in our lives.

So, please just ponder this thought.

One of your roles in teen suicide prevention is to offer connection to the teens you know.

It may not solve the problem.

But it can't hurt to try.

And we never know how it might help.

After all, don't we all need to know we matter? Don't we all want to avoid feeling invisible?

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