“You know we’ve already had two suicides this school year,” the teacher who was hosting us told me. With depression and suicidal ideation taking hold in their school, I had a small team with me to speak to students about how they could be a part of the solution.
Having spoken to more than a million students in 40 countries and 40 states, I have a pretty good idea of what works in communicating to students, and what is not all that effective.
In my opinion the workshop wasn’t ideal. School was not even in session the day the workshop was scheduled.
The 50 or so students that we were looking for to be influencers in their schools would need to come to an off-campus location on their day off.
It seemed unlikely to me that this was going to work.
Even though the setting was less than ideal, I had some faith that the 50 students would show up that day and that we could give them the tools needed to influence and have a positive impact on the students at their school.
I did not expect that over 100 students would show up. We ran out of food, space, and small group leaders, but we saw great things happen.
I once met with a fund-raising consultant for my nonprofit who told me that she was raising money for a California based suicide prevention hotline.
The hotline was successful and got hundreds of calls per week. She told me that the subject matter was really difficult for her as a professional fundraiser.
“People wanna give money to puppies and sunshine,“ she told me, “No one wants to talk about depression and suicide.”
And that’s part of the problem, school administrators, teachers and even parents, do not want to admit the struggles these teenagers in their care are really dealing with.
But I found the teenagers who are actually dealing with this stuff are different. They want to help. They want to be part of the solution. They just don’t know what to do.
Shows like 13 Reasons Why that dramatize and glorify the tragedy of suicide, tell us something about what teenagers are going through.
They do not, however really help this situation in any way. It is not that they are not conversation starters.
It is that they start the wrong conversations.
There are a lot of reasons why teenagers deal with depression and suicidal ideations.
The rush of hormones that comes with becoming a teenager can be very difficult to balance.
Having an existential crisis at 13 doesn’t make you Rene Descartes. It makes you depressed.
Having someone to talk to isn’t all that helpful if you don’t have the right conversations.
While speaking to students across the country, we have been able to help them, their educators, their parents, and other caring adults, have healthy conversations.