Suicide is an issue that youth workers and church members tend to put on the back burner. There’s this notion that if we do not talk suicide, it will simply disappear. Unfortunately, it’s not done enough, and students are struggling and carrying a burden that is too heavy for them to bear. Paul gave great instruction, writing, “Bear one another’s burdens,” in Galatians 6:2. Thus, youth workers need to understand the situation and minister to the students and families accordingly.
In this article, this wrenching topic will be discussed in the following manners: what youth workers need to know, what youth workers can do, how youth workers can talk to students, what students are feeling, and why students would choose suicide. If you can be open and honest with yourself and with your students, you can make a difference.
There are numerous individuals who attempt suicide and are successful at their suicidal attempts. In a given year, 30,000 individuals will commit suicide, and over 250,000 individuals will be treated for suicide attempts (Center for Disease Control). Suicide is the third leading cause of death for teenagers. Thus, you must pay attention.
Depression is a key component in many suicides. Although it is a serious mood disorder, depression is very treatable. Unfortunately, depression is one of the most underdiagnosed and underrecognized disorders in the United States.
The most important knowledge to hold on to, however, is this—each suicidal student is making a choice. When you show him options to change his life, a student is capable of turning away from suicide. But you must have your eyes and ears open to what is going on in the lives of your students.
What to Do
So what can we do if there is a student in our ministry that we believe may be battling with a suicidal tendency? There are nine attributes that are important to keep in mind. They are the following:
1. Take it seriously.
2. Remember, suicidal behavior is a cry for help.
3. Be willing to give and get help sooner rather than later.
5. Ask the student if he or she is having suicidal thoughts.
6. If the person is acutely suicidal, do not leave them alone.
7. Urge professional help.
8. Refuse to keep your student’s suicidal longings a secret.
9. Be there from crisis to recovery.
Talking to Students
When talking to a student about suicide, you must be open and have an honest dialogue with her. She is searching and calling out for help, and you can provide her with a way out. You need to reassure her that there is a way out, and she can get through this present situation. Let her know that she can survive her suicidal feelings if she can find a way to reduce pain and increase coping resources.
Both of these are viable options with every single student who is going through suicidal thoughts. I think that it is imperative that you let each student know and think over the following five issues:
1. Your student needs to know that people do get through this. Statistically, there is a very good chance that your student is going to live. Also, if your student has the power to dramatically change his or he life by committing suicide, then perhaps he has the power to greatly change his life for the better as well.
2. Your student may need some distance. Try to have the student commit to the following: I will wait _________ before I do anything. Feelings and actions are two different things.
3. People often turn to suicide because they are seeking relief from pain. Pain is a feeling, and feelings do pass. You can provide options for your student to manage the pain.
4. Some people will react badly to your student’s suicidal feelings. It is important to realize that there may be people who will actually increase your student’s pain instead of reducing it with their words and actions. They will be doing this despite their good intentions. She must understand that the bad reactions of others indicate their fear and do not reflect on who she is. However, there are people out there who are willing to be with your student during this horrible time.
5. Suicidal feelings are, in and of themselves, traumatic. Thus, your student needs to make sure that he cares for himself and tends to his soul (metatonia).
Suicide Signs and Tendencies
Emotional and Behavior Changes
– overwhelming pain
– feelings of worthlessness
– personality changes (sad, withdrawn, tired, irritable, and apathetic)
– decline in school performance
– I shouldn’t be here
– I’m going to run away
– I wish I were dead
– I wish I could disappear forever
– If a person did this, would they die?
– The voices tell me to end this pain
(Suicide Awareness Voices of Education)
Students who are battling pain feel that they have no other option. Individuals who are contemplating suicide are not “bad” people. It doesn’t even mean that they really want to die. They are simply at a place where they have more pain than they know how to cope with. The important thing also is to remember that sheer willpower won’t change the situation. If they could try harder, teenagers would cheer themselves up if they could. The weight of pain is continually piling upon your student, and eventually, she will collapse. You need to show her the ways to cope and make sure the resources are there to cope with the pain.
Why Teens Are Suicidal
Teens are often suicidal because they are looking for answers. They are trying to escape from a situation that seems impossible to deal with. They want relief from their bad thoughts or feelings. Teens are often under the microscope to perform well, and they are worried about disappointing friends or family members.
Depression makes all the difference in whether the teens can overcome the suicidal thoughts. Because it causes people to focus on their failures and disappointments, they emphasize the negatives of their situation. Thus, depression can cause the person to come to the conclusion that his problems cannot be overcome.
Making a Difference
Youth workers can make a difference and help students overcome their suicidal tendencies. You need to shower the students and families with love and give them the resources that they need to cope with the pain. When coping resources are greater than the pain, they have the capability to thrive and to survive.
I have helped a student that was on this journey, and seeing her overcoming the thoughts and overcoming the desire to end her life has been amazing. My staff and I were able to shine light into a dark situation and let her return to her life. She is now able to cope with situations that previously railed her. She called out; we heard her call and have journeyed with her in life while directing her to professional help.
Listen, watch, and join your student’s journey for peace. Show her a God that gave His life so that she might live.