When a teen dies by suicide the community becomes sad, heartbroken, devastated. Family, friends, classmates, acquaintances and even outsiders cry, hold candlelight vigils, ask why or how did this happen? School staff must come together and quickly plan strategies to support those affected. Action is put into place to try and ease the pain and attempt to comfort those left behind. Teen suicide is a tragedy.
My question is, as someone who is so in love with a teen who suffers from depression and severe anxiety…why do we as a society not take a more aggressive approach in educating our youth on sensitivity and kindness to everyone, especially their classmates?
I bring this up now because I do not want to be the mom who is the center of that candlelight vigil. I don’t want to ask questions after the fact. I want prevention and strategies to avert the tragedy. Not just the tragedy of suicide, but from the chance that this person I love may turn to drugs or alcohol to try to self-medicate and numb the pain.
I believe recognizing and making one aware of the problem may be the first step in helping someone you love deal with their illness. Next comes therapy, medication, tons of love and lots of praying.
But it takes a village. The family can give every part of themselves to try and help the love one learn to live with the illness. But then this teen is let out into the real world, particularly high school. A world where they are exposed to and try to acquire friends and fit into clubs and sports teams. A world where they want to truly fit in, be accepted socially, and just feel a sense of security.
My loved one carries on during school hours with a smile, with jokes, attempting to be cool. He comes home and cracks. You see, due to his depression and anxiety he can only cope for so long. The family must endure fits of rage, tears, anxiety attacks, isolation and pain.
This person with the mental illness will scrutinize and internalize every joke, remark or look a peer might give them. But do they want their peers to know that it tortures them, tears them down, makes them feel useless? From my experience the answer is no. In this person’s eyes this would only draw negative attention, embarrassment and judgement.
So I search for a solution. I keep coming back to educating our teens about the need for sensitivity and acceptance of others. Let’s hold assemblies where willing sufferers, past or present, share their experiences and explain their pain. Let’s hold question and answer sessions. Let’s speak to parents at orientations and class nights about the importance of being kind and preach the importance of teaching our teen’s acceptance. Let’s remind our children that you never know the struggle of a fellow classmate.
Let’s try our best as parents, teachers and classmates to create a supportive village. Let’s avoid that candlelight vigil.
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