Whether or not you are a trained listener/peer leader or just someone who doesn’t shy away from talking about tough subjects, the bottom line is this: you are not responsible for solving anyone else’s problems—particularly when it comes to things as serious as suicide. It is not in your job description to prevent someone from taking her own life. It is in that description to listen and then serve as a connection to a “trusted” adult—a teacher, counselor, coach, member of the clergy, a parent. This adult is probably wellliked and easy to talk to. But he is not the big boss in the chain of command. Let’s say you talk to Mr. Lyons, the high school science teacher. He’s a great guy, but his deal is science, not kids who are thinking about suicide. His job? He needs to go to his list of experienced professionals who are trained in working with troubled teens and connect that person with the teen considering suicide.
Suicide Prevention Programs That Make the Grade
So, what can be done to switch things up so that you or your peers who are having problems can find the support you need? Sadly, there are very few suicide prevention programs in middle schools because the majority of staff still operate on the misconception that talking about suicide (and other issues) encourages those at the top of the waterfall to take the plunge.
There are plenty of suicide prevention programs in high schools and beyond, some small in scope, some national and international. What makes the good programs work is that students are involved from the get go. They are the movers and shakers, the peer leaders, the ones upfront who go upstream. It’s not a top down hierarchy where teachers are in charge and students follow their lead. It’s just the opposite: students set the agenda, create the game plans; their opinions and ideas drive the program. “They create a recognition that it’s okay to be helped and there are people who can be there,” says Dorothy Espelage, professor of Psychology, University of Florida, an expert in bullying along with sexual and dating violence.
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What makes the good programs work is that students are involved from the get go
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I was in the middle of my interview with Espelage when she said that I absolutely must get in touch with Scott LoMurray, executive director of a program called Sources of Strength. I made a note to check out their website and call LoMurray. (You might recall that I borrowed his parable about the man walking by a river who saw kids falling over a waterfall.) LoMurray was happy to talk and share what he and his staff have learned over the years about how to empower students and local communities to identify kids at risk long before they are considering taking their lives.
Before I tell you all about Sources of Strength, I want to survey a few other suicide prevention programs big and small. There is Buddies Helping Buddies, the brainchild of Gabby Frost who was in high school when she launched her program. “It’s more like pen pals,” she says, “where we match you with a buddy who shares the same interests and age. This is not an alternative for therapy or counseling. It is made to help buddies make a friend who can be there during good and rough times.” Since its inception in 2013, more than 170,000 people have signed up. On the organization’s website, (www.buddy-project.org) Gabby writes, “Having just one friend to support you through the hardships of your life can really make a difference. I created Buddy Project to show that to the world.”
The website includes a valuable list of help lines. (Some of these numbers can be found earlier in this book.)
Crisis Text Line (24/7 and confidential):
text START to 741-741
Rape and Sexual Assault:
1-800-843-5200, 1-800-843-5678, 1-800-621-4000
After Abortion Hotline/Pro-Voice:
1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8288)
Pregnancy Hotline :
Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender (GLBT) Youth Support Line:
National Association for Children of Alcoholics:
National Child Abuse Hotline:
National Drug Abuse Hotline:
Eating Disorders Awareness and Prevention:
1-800-931-2237 (Hours:8am-noon daily, PT)
Adolescent Suicide Helpline:
Fire Within was developed under the tutelage of Sally Spencer Thomas, CEO and cofounder of the Carson J. Spencer Foundation. Carson was Sally’s brother. He took his life in 2004. In the hopes of helping prevent more suicides, Thomas and friends came at Fire Within from an entrepreneurial point of view. Her brother was an entrepreneur and business leader. “We wanted to honor the way he lived and address the way he died.”
Thomas’s beef with some other suicide prevention programs is that they either follow the “State Trooper Effect” or count on adults (teachers and counselors). Maybe your school has a program like this that is well-intentioned but not very successful. Why? Because adults are usually the last people to know if you or a friend is in crisis. Or maybe the school administration organizes an assembly with a speaker who can talk about teen suicide. Or maybe students hang up anti-suicide and anti-bullying posters on the hallway walls or in the bathroom stalls. “The problem,” says Thomas “is that you’re paying attention but, once the speaker finishes or you’ve read the posters, everything is in the rearview mirror.” (The “State Trooper Effect.”) Once the speaker (substitute trooper) is gone, you revert to old behavior.
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