It doesn’t take a lot of digging around to find alarming statistics regarding the rates of suicide in today’s youth. The Center for Disease Control and Prevent, claims that suicide was the second leading cause for death among 10-24 year olds in 2016. According to The Jason Foundation, each day in our nation, there are an average of over 3,041 attempts by young people grades 9-12.

In a 13 Reason’s Why kind of world, there are deeply important questions that arise for those of us who are working with youth. Here are a few:

How Can I Tell the Difference between a ‘Drama Queen’ and a Suicidal Student?

This one can be tough to navigate. Our culture glorifies suicide like it’s a badge of honor rather than a thing of horror. A teen who is claiming that they have feelings of self-harm or considering suicide should always be taken seriously. In my experience, the best response is one of love and understanding.

Our teens want to be heard. They want to feel important. They want to feel that they belong. The problem that we run into is that they also want to be the center of the universe. I have found that my teens need to know that they belong, they are loved and their gifts and talents are needed by those in their circle. I’ll talk more about that later…

How Can I Help a Teen Who Has Attempted Suicide or Has Admitted to Having Thoughts of Suicide?

Always tell the parents. This can be tough to navigate and seem like you will be breaking your student’s trust, but there are ways to build that back up again. This is a matter of life and death, and in most cases you are legally obligated. Interestingly enough, all the times that I have thought that by sharing what I learned from a teen would ruin our relationship, it always turned out that my fear was unfounded and never materialized.

For students who suffer from suicidal thoughts, there are often a number of things stacked against them. They may be experiencing crippling anxiety or struggling with their focus. For some, their doctor may be trying to help them find the right kind of medication, which will have an effect on many aspects of the teenager’s life including their sleep, weight, apatite, energy, focus, and temperament. This teen needs a friend who will guide them into a healthy and loving relationship with Jesus and offer a listening ear as the navigate a confusing and uncomfortable season.

Help Them to Look Beyond Themselves.

I once had the opportunity to hear Lysa TerKeurst speak, and she had this to say on depression:

“It’s easy to feel depressed when you’re thinking about yourself.”

We were all teenager’s once, and you may well remember that it was easy to focus all of your attention on being overly consumed with yourself. I think this kind of natural narcissism plays a big role in today’s suicide rate. We all need to feel like we belong and that we are needed, but somehow many youths mistakenly believe that this world only wants perfect superstars.  

Let Them Know They Belong.

As leaders and mentors, we must set out to purposefully create an atmosphere of belonging with the simplest of actions. For example, telling a teenager that you are glad to see them or sending them a mid-week text to let them know that you are thinking about them and hoping that they are having a great week helps them to know that you care! These kinds of simple acts of kindness have helped me to maintain meaningful relationships with teenagers no matter what stage of life they are in. And after a few years, many of these same youths began to return the favor, showering me with random acts of kindness. I have found this to be proof that you do truly reap what you sow.

Pray with Them and Release Them.

I wish that I had some sort of magical key that would guarantee that none of the teens that I meet would ever lose their lives to suicide. But the bitter truth is, that I can’t make that decision for them. I believe and have seen that prayer and intercession works, that when a teenager begins to tap into the depth of God’s love for them their life often turns around and they become a new creation. Still at the end of the day, I have to reconcile my place in this equation.

I am not God, and I cannot take a way another person’s free will. BUT, I am a steward of the lives that have been placed in my care and I hope to approach each one with an appropriate frame of mind. So I will love every student that is placed in my care, and trust God to touch their hearts in ways that I never could.