Students have stories, all of them do. They come through our doors with experiences that sometimes we cannot imagine. Some hide their anxiety and tough situations behind smiles and humor while in others we can see their anger, frustration or apathy. We never know what students walk into our classroom doors holding onto in their hearts. I always wanted to be supportive, but I did not always have the best tools.
For the sake of this blog, I changed the young man’s name. David was a kind, funny, and hard-working student. David seemed to miss social cues sometime, didn’t care, or maybe he simply ignored them. Sometimes his mind was elsewhere. Like most 16-year-old boys he was not always organized and had a tough time staying on top of the workload. Maybe you know a teenage boy that walks out of the room only to step back in again to grab his backpack or a book? That was David. Yet there was a tenacity about him that I admired. He continued working and did not quit, no matter how tough the work got. For many of his friends, the work was challenging, but it came more naturally for them. They got A’s; David got B’s and C’s. I liked David; he beat to his own drum most of the time.
David would hang out sometimes in my room after the bell rang. We would chat as he packed up. Sometimes I just listened, sometimes I asked questions. I enjoyed talking to David. He was witty, but sometimes he turned his humor on himself in a way that was more than self-deprecating. It felt damaging.
One day in our conversation David confided that he struggled at times with being positive and that he was not happy like other students. We talked, and I tried to ask questions to get to the root of the issue. I muddled through it. I was afraid to mention suicide. I held to the myth that I could be planting a seed. David said he didn’t “know why he was here.” My mind raced to give him an answer to give him hope. I don’t remember my exact words. I suggested, “your story still needs to be written, and you are writing it.” I thought that when you get someone talking about the future, then you give them hope. While that is true for some, for a person who is questioning suicide that may not be true.
At this point, I did not know if David was suicidal, depressed or maybe just unhappy. I asked if he shared how he was feeling with his parents. He said, “I told my mom.” He dropped his eyes and mentioned seeing a counselor. I was glad to hear that and encouraged him to do so. I did my best to support him. I was scared to say too much.
The author of the “Chronicles of Narnia” said it best when he wrote — “Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increase the burden: It is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken.” — C.S. Lewis
I told him I was going to buy him a book called Being Happy. That being happy is a choice. I did not understand depression; I did not recognize what I could have been potentially been dealing with in David. I focused on his self-talk, which is important, but the situation might have been worse, and I did not ask the right questions to find out. He said he was willing to read it. He thanked me, and I asked him if we could talk more. He smiled and agreed. His desire to please others overshadowed his need to share his feelings more.
I got the book and gave it to him. A few weeks went by, and he seemed to be in a better place. I encouraged him, and we continued with our chats. When the opportunity presented itself, I asked if he read the book. He said he looked at it. I don’t think he had, but I did not want to press him. I don’t remember how long it took but eventually, he gave me the book back. He thanked me and told me he read parts. We talked about what he had learned, he assured me he was doing better.
One of the quotes we discussed was — “One person sees the beautiful view and the other sees the dirty window” — Andrew Matthews, Being Happy!
I told him he could keep the book. I don’t remember if he gave it back or not, but I have a feeling he did. Throughout the year, we continued to chat. As I look back, I wonder if some of his friend group were teasing him or even bullying him. I had the opportunity to talk to his mom a few times. Although I don’t remember the exact words, I remember her saying he was doing much better and she thanked me for always encouraging him. As we talked, I realized even though she was grateful for my support, I should have talked to her sooner. Another fear we often hold as educators is a fear of what parents might say when we deliver unpleasant news. If he were my son, I would have wanted to know.
Today I would have handled that situation much differently. I would have asked more questions. I would have asked if he wanted to hurt himself. I would have called his parents. If there was an immediate need, I would have called for help! Afterward, I would have followed up. Depending on his answer I might not have given him the book “Being Happy.” David walked away that day, and I had no idea if he was suicidal, depressed, or sad. A few more questions and I could have known.
I saw David a few years ago; he had to come out to my school. He is in the medical field helping others, which is perfect for him. He is married and has a family. His humor was still witty, and a little dry. When he talked about his children and his job he beamed. He seemed happy. It was great to see him.
Supporting children and teens battling depression, anxiety or mood disorders takes skill but most of all it takes caring and a willingness to help. Below are the signs of suicide, how to prevent suicide and National Suicide help phone numbers. It is so important that we say something and that we seek help. Brain health is incredibly important, and yet we are afraid to talk about it.
With something to think about…
your friend, Chris.
Signs Of Suicide
- Talking about wanting to die or wanting to kill themselves
- Talking about feeling empty, hopeless, or having no reason to live
- Making a plan or looking for a way to kill themselves, such as searching online, stockpiling pills, or buying a gun
- Talking about great guilt or shame
- Talking about feeling trapped or feeling that there are no solutions
- Feeling unbearable pain (emotional pain or physical pain)
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Using alcohol or drugs more often
- Acting anxious or agitated
- Withdrawing from family and friends
- Changing eating and/or sleeping habits
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Taking great risks that could lead to death, such as driving extremely fast
- Talking or thinking about death often
- Displaying extreme mood swings, suddenly changing from very sad to very calm or happy
- Giving away important possessions
- Saying goodbye to friends and family
- Putting affairs in order, making a will
Two organizations with direct support when needed.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
24/7/365 Crisis Hotline
Available 24 hours every day