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An Article from an MISD Expert

Suicide Prevention Month - Signs, Tips, and Resources to Help Your Adolescent Child from an MISD Expert

We are family - This statement is deeply rooted and a part of our Midlothian Independent School District’s culture. We see every student, teacher, staff and community member as a part of our district’s extended family. As with any family, we are vigilant in making sure we provide students with the social and emotional tools to be ready to learn. However, at times, our students struggle with life’s challenges and may need additional support.

This month has been designated Suicide Prevention Month across the globe, and MISD wants to bring awareness to this sensitive topic to help provide an opportunity to have an open conversation on mental health. As educators, parents and community members, we have a deep desire to help any student who may be experiencing signs of distress and feeling helpless where self-harm is a possibility. On Wednesday, Sept. 11th from 12:15-12:45 p.m., MISD will host a Facebook LIVE session with our mental health experts to share information on suicide prevention and resources. We will also take live questions from the comment section. Our Facebook LIVE event is part of our district’s effort in partnering with our parents to provide the best social and emotional care possible for all of our nearly 10,000 students.  

Education regarding suicide ideation is a key factor in understanding the relevance of prevention. The most recent statistics released from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that in 2017, suicide was the second leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 10 and 34, and the fourth leading cause of death among individuals between the ages of 35 and 54. While this is an alarming statistic, it is important that the focus remains on the word prevention. Although it can often be uncomfortable to discuss, suicide is preventable and there is hope for children and adults experiencing thoughts of suicide. Having open, authentic conversations with each other will reduce stigma, paving the way for impactful interventions. 

To say parenting adolescents is difficult is an understatement. Teenagers and pre-teens today are faced with challenges many of us did not experience, and it is important not to overlook the fact that our adolescents are dealing with societal issues at a completely different level than we may realize. Technological advances alone have made the life of an adolescent extremely complex. Often, we hear from our middle and high school counselors that stress and anxiety among teens are at high levels. With the pressure of academic success, the competitive level of sports, keeping up with a social life, and high expectations that parents place on students, counselors find our middle and high schoolers are dealing with an overwhelming amount of stress. A lack of coping strategies can lead to thoughts of helplessness and hopelessness.  

In addition to dealing with the pressures of this generation, teens also are in a very intricate stage of brain development. Have you ever talked to a teenager and felt like you were trying to reason with a toddler? A teenage brain may not understand that a situation is simply that - situational with an endpoint. Adolescents make decisions differently than adults, and those actions are driven more by emotions rather than reason. This does not mean they are not able to problem-solve, they simply may need more support. For example, when teens go through a breakup of an important relationship, have a conflict with peers, experience rejection, or are subjected to a severe consequence for an impulsive action, it is difficult for them to reason that this terrible feeling won’t last forever. Often, adults try to be helpful and may make statements such as, “You’re young; you’ll have other boyfriends/girlfriends,” or “You can always try out again next year.” These responses may lead teens to think adults don’t understand and leave them feeling more isolated. In the mind of the teenager, it feels like this pain or rejection will last forever.  

Noticing signs of distress in your child is one of the first things you can do as a preventative measure. Be aware that stress may be a contributing factor to your child’s behavior and he or she may need guidance and intervention with healthy ways to manage that stress. While it may be difficult to decipher between normal teenage moodiness and abnormal behavior, many individuals who have contemplated suicide will demonstrate behaviors such as a change in appearance, giving away treasured items, leaving notes to loved ones or friends, making indirect statements about not wanting to live anymore, making direct statements about wishing to die, or will exhibit significant changes in behavior. 

In a situational crisis, listen to your child and do not undermine the gravity of the circumstances. While listening, pose open-ended questions rather than making your own statements or judgements. Offer support with empathy and compassion, using solution-focused statements such as, “What have you (or others) done in the past that has helped you,” or “In this situation, what actions can you take, even if they are small, to begin to solve the problem?”, or “What assistance do you need from me or others?” Also, help your child maintain connections with others, including friends and family. Making a point to spend time together will keep your child from being isolated during a difficult time. 

Additionally, staying tuned to your child’s online and social media activity is critical in identifying situations that may cause distress. In the event of disciplinary action and your child is subjected to a severe consequence, ensure they know they are loved, supported and cared for. Parents can seek assistance from the school community, such as school counselors, who can provide guidance on behavioral health. 

Considering students spend the majority of their day in school or involved in a school event, education of students and staff members is crucial for prevention and intervention. In MISD, all staff receives suicide prevention professional development. In addition, campus counselors conduct face-to-face training to staff to further explain procedures for identifying and seeking assistance for a student that may be at risk of self-harm and suicide. Our teachers and staff work with students and encourage them to ask for help if they believe a friend is in danger, is exhibiting self-harm or displaying suicide ideation. It is paramount to dispel the myth that talking about suicide causes further harm. In actuality, talking about it provides a means to equip our students, teachers, staff, parents and community with a clear understanding of where to get help. Our school counselors are here to help you - our students and parents. If you believe a suicide threat is serious, get help immediately. Call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for confidential assistance. For more information, visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

Becky Wiginton Becky Wiginton
Director of College/Career Readiness & Guidance
Midlothian ISD