So I thought it was time for a little more activism around here, so here we are. (Warning, this post is like 400 words over the limit. I'm sorry, I just felt really passionately about this and feel like it was a deserving subject to go so much over on.)
So sometimes people get upset, and sometimes people get depressed, and sometimes people use these words interchangeably. But let me tell you, they are not the same. Upset is sort of temporary, like, "Wow, I didn't win the science fair. I'm upset." But depression is an illness, and it doesn't go away so easily. When people say, "Aw, I didn't win the science fair, I'm depressed," I tell them that they should stop saying that because depression is an illness.
In Utah, we have some of the highest rates of suicide in the country. Due to this, all of the Utahn school districts are required to give at least one hour of suicide education (at least in middle and high schools.) While at first glance, this could actually solve the problem and help the issue, but in fact, the presentation we got was pretty jarring. I've had some experience with depression and suicidal people, and I felt that this presentation would have been unhelpful, maybe even detrimental, even though it meant well. I got so upset about it I even went to the counseling office and talked to them about the issues with it. But since I wanted to get it out there a little more, I'm posting here too.
The presentation included a video, which portrayed two teens who both had depression. One ended up killing herself, the other had a friend who told a teacher, so he lived. There was also a narrated slideshow, and a fact sheet handout.
Issues with this presentation:
1) Gender stereotypes in the video
2) Unrealistic characters
3) Lists of huge statistics of suicide rates, but also emphasized how suicidal thoughts are "not normal."
4) Gave very few resources for either someone who is having suicidal thoughts or someone who knows someone else who is
5) Did not encourage telling parents or help on how to do it
What I think would be much more helpful and effective would be to first of all, have no video, or at least not one with a story. This is so that there isn't even the possibility to have unrealistic characters, gender stereotypes, or "trigger" images or motions. If a video had to be shown, I think it would be better to have an interview-type thing, where real-life people who were suicidal, but lived through it, talked about how they did so. It is infinitely more helpful to know how others got better than how they got worse. This could also emphasize the importance of therapy, and other options for recovery. (Anti-depressants, group therapy, etc.)
Additionally, this presentation gave very few resources, really only giving us the national suicide hotline number and telling us to talk to teachers and counselors. It also emphasized that if you know someone who feels like this, you need to tell an adult. However, telling anyone you are purposely hurting yourself or are depressed is rather touchy subject, and usually the last thing a suicidal person feels like doing. Even if this person has told a friend, they may say things to that friend like, "If you tell someone (ie. parents, counselors, hotline) it will get worse," so the friend feels like they can't tell anyone either. And just telling teenagers to talk to adults is not all that helpful or realistic. What would be better is if the presentation made it more approachable, by having people who students have personal connections to (like teachers) announce that students can talk to them about anything.
Furthermore, I felt the presentation needed to have a lot more resources. I had a couple paragraphs on this, but since I'm already about 100 words over my word count, I'm just going to make a list. These are not only for suicidal people, but also for friends who know someone who is. It can be incredibly difficult and stressful to see someone who is, to you, a wonderful person feel so badly about themselves, not so cut-and-dry as portrayed in the video.
1) Parents. It's imperative to tell parents, whether they have a good relationship with their kids or not.
2) School counselors. They can listen, give advice, don't cost money, as opposed to a therapist, and can help students in telling parents how they feel.
3) Suicide hotlines. Again, not only for suicidal people, but for others who are worried friends are in danger.
Salt Lake City hotline: (801) 261-1442
Summit County hotline: (435) 649-8347
more Utah numbers here.
National lifeline: 1 (800) 273-8255 (TALK)
The Trevor Project Hotline (specifically for LGBTQA+ suicidal youth) : 1 (866) 488-7386
4) Friends. If you are feeling this way and haven't told anyone, you need to. Please, please tell a friend. And if a friend has just told you they're suicidal, don't go running to a counselors unless you think they're in immediate danger. Just be there for them, listen to what they have to say, and encourage and help them to tell an adult. Most importantly, take care of yourself. Don't be afraid to talk to a counselor or hotline. They can give you advice, and won't require you to give a name of the person you need help for.
5) 911. If you get into a serious situation in which someone's life could be at risk, or already is, call 911.
6) Me. Watching this presentation made me genuinely scared for everyone in the school. I really truly care about all of you a lot, and especially everyone in my grade. If you're reading this and you need help, please, please, please talk to me. I will listen and I will try help even if I've only ever passed you in the hall. Email me (if you're in the district you know what it is.) If you don't know me, or don't feel comfortable talking to me, talk to another friend, please.
I just wanted to say that I care about every single person in this school. Every single one of you.
I love you,
PS: About the LGBTQA+ deal, Holly wrote a really, really fabulous post and you can read it here.