Addressing the Problems Exposed by Teen Suicide

Photo of two teens mourning the loss of a peer who died from suicide.The suicide of a teenager can devastate a school community, but the loss of a teen to suicide can incite more than just sadness and shock. Sadly, in some cases, teen suicide can open up other wounds in the school community.

A recent rash of teen suicides in a rural Missouri community may illustrate this point. Over the past seven weeks, three students at St. Clair High School in St. Clair, Missouri have died from suicide. Students from both genders and three different grades have taken their lives. The most recent death occurred just a few days before this blog post was published.

A recent forum hosted by St. Clair school administrators was created in the hopes of offering information and hope to the St. Clair High School community. However, despite administrators’ careful discussion about the deaths and a presentation from a mental health expert, local media sources reported that some parents angrily expressed concerns about bullying in the school community. These parents wondered aloud whether school problems with bullying might have been a contributing factor in the deaths of the students.

Of course, it would be inappropriate to speculate on the causes that led to the deceased students’ suicides. But the concerns voiced by the upset parents raise important questions. Is bullying a problem in the district? If so, how is that behavior affecting the students and the school’s culture? Are administrators aware of all incidents of bullying, and are incidents of bullying being addressed by the administrators?

Image displaying webinar presentation on bullying and teen suicide prevention.Suicide prevention expert Dr. Scott Poland spoke about the connection between bullying and suicide in our recent teen suicide prevention webinar. His presentation noted that most studies on this issue “reported positive associations between all bullying types and suicidal risks.”

Dr. Poland also noted in the webinar that many students who have suicidal thoughts are ambivalent about suicide. In one moment, they may want to die, but a positive event a few minutes later (i.e. getting a good grade or reconciling with a friend) may bring them back up again. This idea reminds us that proactive resolution of problems may be critical to preventing depression and other troubling thoughts in teens. Put simply, you can never predict what will finally drive a troubled teen over the edge.

Dr. Poland further noted that students who have suicidal thoughts often tell others well before they act on their urges. Most often, peers of teens who died by suicide say they didn’t take steps to get help for their friend because they thought the friend was “just joking.” Unfortunately, in this day and age where teens seem to be so fragile, every mention of suicide must be taken seriously. Programs like the CyberBully Hotline can help friends speak out and give a tip to a school administrator that their buddy might need help.

Perhaps the suicides in the St. Clair High School community couldn’t have been prevented. Unfortunately, we’ll never know. But the St. Clair School District, like every other district, can take steps to actively address problems in the student body and help those who are hurting. Let’s hope that another teen doesn’t have to die before this wounded community can find healing.

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