I lost my only child to suicide on February 6th, 2019. She was only 13 years old.
With the end of September last week came the end of “National Suicide Prevention Month,” but the truth is, this work cannot be limited to one month of the year. With this in mind, I put together 5 steps I believe need to be implemented in every school in this country.
We are facing an epidemic, with suicide currently being the 2nd leading cause of death among adolescents between 10-24 years old. The goal of these actionable steps is to help our kids learn to cope and give them skills that will follow them into adulthood while addressing issues of bullying, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation.
Without social and emotional well being, learning cannot occur. These skills have to be taught in our schools. Here are my suggestions:
STEP 1: Social, emotional and mental health have to be as important as academics. Meaning, children should be taught how to emotionally regulate, meditate, identify and speak about their feelings. We should focus on teaching empathy, conflict resolution, and how to connect with others. Without cognitive, social and emotional control in a classroom, learning cannot occur.
STEP 2: We must increase mental health support in our school systems. One school psychologist for every 1,381 students is unacceptable. There should be at least 5 mental health professionals in each school.
- 2A: TWO professionals providing one-on-one mental health therapy. Yes, students can get it outside of school, but, this should be offered in all schools as well.
- 2B: ONE professional to deal with any “fires”, issues, or trauma that may arise during the school day.
- 2C: TWO professionals that deal with academic planning, goal setting, and IEP’s. They work directly with the special education providers and team.
Then depending on the need of the children, all 5 mental health professionals can work together to provide appropriate care.
STEP 3: It is a proven fact that talking about suicide does not make people complete. It’s not talking about it that is truly dangerous. I propose at least one seminar a year where students learn about suicide prevention, in school, starting in 5th grade.
The seminar will teach them signs to look for in themselves and their peers. They will learn about resources and crisis lines. The students will then make ”a safety plan.” Students will pick 2 adults that they feel comfortable with and inform them they are their ”Suicide Safety Friend.” These adults will provide them with any additional support if they feel suicidal. The adults will commit to talking to them and meeting with them in their time of need. Also, they will help them decide if any further measures need to be taken to keep them safe.
STEP 4: Providing parenting skill courses. Just like our children will be learning about suicide prevention and social and emotional wellbeing, we need to teach the parents to model these behaviors as well. Parents today are the guinea pig generation for balancing how to raise children in such a social media influenced culture. It is very different from how we were raised. We need to make sure parents are aware of what our children are exposed to daily and how it affects their brains. It is vital to teach parents how to implement healthy coping strategies and emphasize how important it is to validate your children’s feelings and emotions while helping them with their academics.
STEP 5: Using a restorative practice model with children who “misbehave” in the classroom. I believe suspension should be taken off the table, it doesn’t work. The restorative model is to be used instead of simply punishing the student for breaking the rules. When we question and work to understand the behavior, rather than simply punish, we can decrease the behavior in the future.
I have asked a million times, what does prevention actually look like? To me, this is a tangible and attainable model that fully supports mental health and well-being while starting young. The goal and focus have to be taking on this youth suicide epidemic head-on.