LOVE LIFE: Breaking the Code of Silence

Posted on by YFC Seattle

By Warren Mainard and Mark Haug

While there are cases when a student chooses to die by suicide without any warning, in most situations, there are warning signs that parents and youth workers should look for.  Engaging students in a meaningful relationship will both increase your likelihood of recognizing the warning signs and influencing the student to take steps in response. Most students who take their lives by suicide have spent significant time envisioning suicidal ideations beforehand.  As you engage with students, look for the following four types of warning signs.

Four Types of Warning Signs

Indirect Verbal Clues 

  • “I’m tired of life, I just can’t go on.”
  • “My family would be better off without me.”
  • “Who cares if I’m dead anyway.”
  • “I won’t be around much longer.”
  • “Pretty soon you won’t have to worry about me.”

Depending upon the personality of your student, it may be easy to dismiss some of these statements as “drama,” “attention seeking” or “just kidding around.”  These types of statements are not to be taken lightly and should be recognized by the parent or youth leader as an invitation to dig deeper and ask more direct questions.  Asking questions (as opposed to preaching or lecturing) will gain you far more trust and understanding into the seriousness of the students struggle.

Direct Verbal Clues

  • “I’ve decided to kill myself.”
  • “I wish I were dead.”
  • “I’m going to commit suicide.”
  • “I’m going to end it all.”
  • “If (such and such) doesn’t happen, I’ll kill myself.”

Many times, a direct question toward a student regarding their intent to take their life will result in a direct answer.  Remain calm and continue to engage in more questions. If they have made a plan to take their lives, take steps to intervene in that plan.  

Behavioral Clues

  • Any previous suicide attempt
  • Acquiring a gun or stockpiling pills
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Sudden interest or disinterest in religion
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Unexplained anger, aggression and irritability

Students can be temperamental and difficult to predict, but when their behavior makes a dramatic turn, it is a clue that something deeper may be happening.  In addition to addressing the behavioral issues themselves, ask questions related to the motivation behind the behavior. Seek to understand the issue that the behavior is attempting to mask/medicate.

Situational Clues

  • Being fired or being expelled from school
  • A recent unwanted move
  • Loss of any major relationship
  • Death of a cherished person, especially if by suicide
  • Sudden unexpected loss of freedom/fear of punishment
  • Concussions

A traumatic or disturbing life experience can create a deep sense of fear, insecurity, disillusionment and anger in a student’s life.  Be sensitive to the impact that these circumstances may have had on the student and seek to guide them to take stock of the aspects of their lives that are not experiencing turbulence or extreme change.

As a parent, youth worker or care-giver, anytime you become aware of a warning sign, do not try to handle the situation alone.  Speak up and invite others into your community to provide multiple layers of care and support. Do not be afraid or embarrassed to call for a counselor or reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255).  Let the student know that your utmost priority is their well-being and that you want them to experience the love, care and support of many people who deeply value their life.

Other Posts in this Series:

LOVE LIFE: Critical Care for Students and Care Givers in a Suicide Culture

LOVE LIFE: Suicide in Seattle - 16 Risk Factors

LOVE LIFE: Engaging with Suicidal Students

LOVE LIFE: 8 Thinking Errors Common Among Suicidal Students

LOVE LIFE: Coping by Cutting - Understanding and Engaging A Student Who Is Cutting

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