“How can I help my students?” is a question many educators have when faced with a struggling teen. During a Teen Suicide Awareness and Prevention webinar led by ELG’s School Counselor, Dongxin Zhao, our specialist reaffirms attendees and shares ways educators  can support students in distress – “The risk of teen suicide is real, but we as educators can prevent it effectively when we have the right tools.” 

The first step is to fully understand all the risk factors and protective factors. There are individual, social, and cultural/environmental causes that can contribute to suicidal ideation and action. However, if teachers learn to reduce risk factors while at the same time enhancing protective factors, many tragedies can be avoided. A student does not go straight from being in pain and hopeless to acting on suicidal thoughts. There are many steps in between at which teachers can intervene and help. 

 

At each step, there are warning signs that all educators should be aware of. The American Association of Suicidology has created an acronym that can help us remember the warning signs for suicide: IS PATH WARM. The acronym stands for the following 10 warning signs

“Then what? How do I open the conversation with a high-risk student?” – quite a few attendees asked this question, as they feel uneasy about how to talk with a student they are worried about. Drawing on his professional experience, Dongxin shared the following useful guidelines: 

  • Talk in a calm, non-accusatory manner 

  • Express loving concern 

  • Convey how important he/she is to you 

  • Focus on your concern for the student’s well-being and health 

  • Make statements that convey you have empathy for their stress 

  • Encourage professional help-seeking behaviors (locate appropriate resources) 

  • Reassure the student that seeking services can change his/her outlook 

Specific examples of how to start the conversation include: 

“Are you feeling sad or depressed?” 

“You seemed troubled, I’m worried about you. Have you been having thoughts about wanting to die or killing yourself?”

Dongxin also debunked the prevalent myth that asking or talking about suicide will increase the likelihood of suicide. On the contrary, talking about suicide in an open manner provides an opportunity for communication and support.

Specific examples of how to start the conversation include: 

“Are you feeling sad or depressed?” 

“You seemed troubled, I’m worried about you. Have you been having thoughts about wanting to die or killing yourself?”

Remember, teen suicide is preventable. Any suicidal talk and thoughts should be taken seriously. If you learn that a student is having suicidal thoughts, talk to them and seek help immediately from a local health provider.  ELG has a strong, international psychological and behavior team that provides all-around psychological support to children and adults who may be experiencing difficult times. If you are worried about a student, do reach out to us.

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