September is known as National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. We want to make sure to give resources to students and families surrounding this really difficult topic. One thing that we do each year is present the Signs of Suicide (SOS) program to the 9th grade class. We want students to know how to be a compassionate friend to others who may need help and to give them the skills and tools they need so they don't feel like they have to shoulder all of the concerns. The purpose is NOT to diagnose anyone! Often when students are confronted by another student who shares these thoughts with them, they don't know what to do. This program is designed to assist and get students in touch with warning signs in an effort to prevent a tragedy from occurring.
The acronym that is used throughout the SOS program is A.C.T.. We are not referring to the college admissions test. We are talking about ACKNOWLEDGING their own feelings or their friend's feelings and listening to what they have to share. We talk about CARING responses and how to show compassion to others in a difficult moment. And, finally, we talk about how to TELL a responsible adult the concerns so that they or the friend can get the help they need.
We never want to ignore a warning sign from a student in crisis. As a community, we need to have each other’s backs and be on the lookout for students in need. We should be fostering a support system for all students. In an ideal world, every student would have a friend to sit with at lunch, be involved in an activity, have mentors, feel successful in academics, have an environment at home that was loving and supportive, and would feel happy and healthy throughout adolescence. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. We cannot control every factor, but we can do our best to be a light in their world! Some students struggle every day to persist in their everyday activities - and there are days that it just seems unbearable. Hopefully, we can be a community that has positive influence on each other, be the community that opens its arms to those who need it, and be the community that can step up and show love and compassion rather than doubt and judgment. Let's do this!
Here are just a few of the warning signs that a student in crisis might show:
- Threats or comments about killing themselves, also known as suicidal ideation, can begin with seemingly harmless thoughts like “I wish I wasn’t here” but can become more overt and dangerous
- Increased alcohol and drug use
- Aggressive behavior
- Social withdrawal from friends, family and the community
- Dramatic mood swings
- Talking, writing or thinking about death
- Impulsive or reckless behavior
- Giving away items that are important to them
Let's chat about ways a student can get help! Students in crisis can get help from an adult immediately. At school, a student may share information with a teacher, coach, or counselor and all of us have been trained on suicide prevention protocol. Outside of school, there are also many people who can help – trusted adults may include a parent, minister/pastor, coach, aunt/uncle, grandparent, etc. The first step is to ask for help which can be really scary and overwhelming at first.
There are also crisis hotlines to assist.
- Fulton County Department of Mental Health Hotline - 404-730-1600
- Georgia Crisis & Access Line - 1-800-715-4225
- National Crisis Line - 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
- Suicide Prevention Hotline - 1-800-SUICIDE (784-2433).
The National Alliance on Mental Illness states: Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone regardless of age, gender or background. Suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among young people and is often the result of mental health conditions that effect people when are most vulnerable. The good news is, there is HOPE!! There are so many resources to support students through this difficult time in their life.
It is difficult to do so when every day is a battle. So, if someone is feeling hopeless and wants to hurt themselves - please use the ACT protocol of Acknowledge their concerns and listen to their struggles. Care about them! Let them know you want to help. The last step, again, is to Tell a trusted adult so that they can get the help that is needed. Do not promise to keep secrets.
Our hope is that if a student or other person feels this way, they will reach out for support. Our goal is for students to live happy, healthy, productive lives.