What can be done to prevent suicide attempts and ideations? In recent years the suicide rate has been increasing by nearly 2 percent per year and has nearly doubled from 2007 to 2015. A study published by the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry found that students who were connected to peers and adult staff at school have lower rates of suicide attempts. Specifically, strengthening social connections and creating bonds with students and adults enhanced inter-generational cohesion. Students who identified with a trusted adult were able to create more friendship groups and to share their concern for a friend at risk for suicide. Ultimately the positive youth-adult connection provides a safety net for those who are struggling with mental health issues. To improve the mental health of all students, it is suggested to consider the social ties and support systems in place. Identifying peer leaders of social groups and teaching them ways to positively influence their friends' coping behaviors is another way to strengthen connections. Many of the students who are at higher risk for mental health problems or substance abuse issues tend to be more isolated from their peers and adults.
Sometimes we need to do a better job listening or paying attention to those who are calling out for help. Other times there are no easily identifiable warning signs or the distressed person has isolated themselves so much that there are few opportunities to identify their problems. Additionally, we may have difficulty being around someone who lashes out with anger or appears sullen and negative all the time so we don't fully grasp the magnitude of their pain. Often people internalize negative emotions and avoid sharing much about their feelings because they anticipate being judged or told how to fix their problems. Sometimes, anger masks depression and that anger keeps people at arms length. People don't like to admit that they're experiencing emotional problems because they feel vulnerable and in some cases inadequate/weak. In fact, acknowledging that one struggles with psychological problems is often the first step to change.
We can make a difference in the lives of others by talking openly about our own issues and sharing coping strategies that have worked for us. Becoming a mentor or volunteering at a school and interacting with students in a positive and encouraging way can make a lasting impact. Providing resources or directing someone to possible mental health professionals can prove beneficial when they may be lost or struggling with direction and purpose. Sometimes just allowing someone to vent, providing a listening ear, and validating their feelings can create a connection and a safe place. Discerning when their problems are beyond any guidance you can offer and then pointing them in the right direction can give them hope. We all have a deep longing to be accepted, feel like we belong, and be loved by family and friends. Maybe you can be that person for a student and give them an outlet to cope and deal with life with you by their side. And if they have a faith remind them that they are never alone and God wants them to put their hope in him. It truly does take a community to raise a child and even one adult willing to walk alongside a child can make a real difference.