Gotta be honest, I know the trending Netflix series name does not include the number 12, but we knew it would get your attention. However, this post is the main theme of that popular series and will address the unfortunate rise in teen suicide and what we, as Youth Pastors, can do about it.
Not sure if this is true in all areas of the US but it is definitely true in the schools and communities close to us, teenage suicide is on the rise. It feels like there is a new tragic story every week from a neighboring high school or middle school. It is devastating. As a result, we have both shepherded our students through the loss of a friend or classmate to suicide. At times like these we have felt helpless and had to try to figure out how, if at all, we could help. So, in the case that you are experiencing this reality (we sure hope you’re not), here are a few thoughts on how to respond.
Here are 12 ways (since we probs can’t do 13 due to copy write issues ha) to respond to the teen suicide epidemic…
- Open up a conversation.
When a suicide happens in your community, do not sweep it under the rug. Do not attempt to move on or ignore it because it is sad and uncomfortable.
- Provide safe spaces in your ministry to process and pray for the devastating loss and the family/friends involved.
We encourage our small groups to open the floor or take a week off from the curriculum when this happens at a school in our community. We want our students to have a space to talk about their own struggles with self-harm or suicidal thoughts, or just a space to ask the tough questions like, “Why would God let this happened?”
- Be careful to not glorify the victim because it may unintentionally glorify the suicidal behavior.
What we mean by this is, when the aftermath of a suicide turns into a glorifying vigil it can actually encourage students who are struggling with lack of attention or love from peers to make a similar choice. Our goal is always to provide a space for constructive conversation and instead of glorification.
- Communicate to parents.
Our job is to partner with parents, so we need to communicate with our peeps! Parents need to know why this is happening. Send out a parent newsletter! Sarah sent one out to discuss “13 Reasons Why” and she is currently working on one to discuss warning signs and motivations for suicide.
- Make yourself available to process and talk through this growing issue with parents, volunteers, and students.
We are here to give hope and help. Parents are navigating this and figuring out how to talk to their kids about it too so they will appreciate you opening up the conversation.
- Train your volunteers on how to process with and shepherd students when they experience this in their community.
- Train volunteers on how to identify warning signs and self-destructive behavior.
Small group leaders play a key role in our student’s lives and they can be a powerful tool to process through suicide or suicidal thoughts. Let’s help them do this!
- When a student opens up about suicidal thoughts or self-harm take it seriously.
It is easy to dismiss the stormy torrent of teenage emotion because “it’s just how they are” or “they will get over it.”
- When a student reveals their struggle with suicidal thoughts remain calm, be nonjudgmental, strive to understand the emotional pain that has resulted in suicide thoughts and avoid minimizing statements.
- Look for suicidal signs.
These may include explicit threats, implicit threats, giving away valued possessions, preoccupation with death, changes in behavior/mood, withdrawal from friends and family, or emotional distress.
- If you have suspicion or worry about a particular student, ask them DIRECTLY if they are considering suicide.
Do not beat around the bush, be bold and ask. Many times students are just waiting for one person to ask, aka one person to care.
- Get help and provide supervision for students who have confirmed suicidal thoughts and plans.
At this point, it is definitely necessary to include family so there is maximum supervision. Also, consider looking into suicide hotlines and counselors in your area to equip the student and family.
- (Whoops, a thirteenth.) Reassure ALL students of their identity and purpose in Christ.
We have the opportunity to offer teenagers the ultimate hope, Christ. Remind them of their worth and the fact that God has so many amazing plans for their life.
I know this blog may have been like drinking through a fire hose but we hope it is helpful. We, as Youth Pastors, may not be able to save students from the mental afflictions they face and the pressures they feel, but we can create an environment that is able to educate and respond. If you are facing a situation and want to talk about it, we would love to talk!
– S & E