Recognizing Suicide Risk in Students: An Educator's Guide
[Trigger Warning: This article discusses sensitive topics related to mental health and suicide.]
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As educators, we play a crucial role in the lives of our students beyond academics. We are often the first line of defense in identifying signs of distress or mental health challenges. Understanding the warning signs of suicide risk and knowing how to respond can save lives. In this article, we will explore the signs of suicide risk and the steps educators can take to support their students in crisis.
Recognizing Suicide Risk: Signs to Watch For
Changes in Behavior: Watch for significant changes in a student's behavior, such as sudden withdrawal from social interactions, academic decline, or increased irritability.
Expressing Hopelessness: Pay attention to verbal cues indicating feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness. Students may make statements like, "I can't do this anymore" or "Life is not worth living."
Giving Away Possessions: Students in distress may give away belongings they once valued, signifying a sense of detachment from life.
Talking About Suicide: Direct statements like "I want to die" or "I wish I were never born" are clear signs of suicidal ideation.
Preoccupation with Death: A student who frequently talks about death or seems fixated on the topic may be struggling with suicidal thoughts.
Risky Behavior: Engaging in reckless or self-destructive behaviors can be indicative of a student struggling with emotional pain.
Isolation: Students who withdraw from friends, family, or social activities may be experiencing feelings of loneliness and despair.
Responding to Suicide Risk: Steps for Educators
Create a Safe Environment: Foster an open and non-judgmental atmosphere in the classroom. Let students know that it is okay to talk about their feelings and struggles.
Educate Yourself: Attend suicide prevention training like QPR (Question, Persuade, Refer) to enhance your ability to recognize and respond to suicide risk.
Listen and Observe: Pay attention to any concerning behaviors or statements made by students, and take them seriously. Active listening can provide vital clues.
Initiate a Conversation: If you suspect a student is at risk, express concern and ask direct questions about their well-being. Use phrases like, "I'm worried about you; can we talk?"
Don't Promise Confidentiality: Explain to the student that you must share their concerns with a mental health professional or a school counselor to ensure their safety.
Offer Resources: Provide information about mental health resources available within the school or community, such as counseling services or crisis hotlines.
Involve Parents or Guardians: Reach out to the student's parents or guardians to share your concerns and work together to create a support plan.
Follow Up: Check in with the student regularly to show ongoing support and ensure they are getting the help they need.
Educators have the unique opportunity to make a profound impact on their students' lives beyond academics. Recognizing suicide risk signs and knowing how to respond can be life-saving. By creating a supportive and empathetic environment, educating ourselves on suicide prevention, and staying vigilant for signs of distress, we can be instrumental in helping students navigate through difficult times and find the support they need to thrive. Let us come together as educators and champions of mental health to build a safer and healthier future for our students.
*Fonda Bryant: When it comes to speaking out and up for Mental Health issues Fonda Bryant is the person you want in your corner. Fonda serves on the state board of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) NC, volunteers with NAMI Cabarrus County, AFSP (American Foundation for Suicide Prevention), MHA of Central Carolinas, and started her own foundation in February of 2020 called Wellness Action Recovery, Inc. A nonprofit organization geared towards putting in the work for mental wellness and recovery through positive actions.
She has several published articles on Mental Health with NAMI National and she spearheaded getting the ACC (Atlantic Coast Conference) in 2018, onboard to have a Mental Health and Wellness Summit to bring student/athletes together with coaches to understand and find better ways of helping them cope with the pressures of being a student/athlete.
She has been awarded 2021 Black Mental Health Symposium Advocate of The Year, 2021 Nexstar Media Remarkable Woman of Charlotte, out of 10,000 remarkable across the country, 2021 Nexstar Media National Remarkable Woman of The Year, MHA of Central Carolinas Outstanding Advocacy Volunteer Award 2019, Girls Too Women, Inc. 2019 Mental Health Advocate of the Year, the CIT Advocate of the Year Award from CMPD in 2019, in 2018, she was named, by the Charlotte Observer's Charlotte Five as one of six women building the Charlotte Community, the Community Leadership Award from Genesis Project 2018, and also received the Let's Talk About It Peer Award from Eustressin 2018, for her work in the community with mental health and suicide prevention.
Her QPR Suicide Prevention Training has been featured nationally on CBS Weekend News and Essence Magazine.