The Gift of Human Connection: The Importance of Suicide Awareness Month
by Lucy Gray
September is suicide awareness month. Different foundations and organizations support this cause and spread useful information to those who are struggling. Courtney Caroland, High School Bible Teacher and a part of the Spiritual and Worship Staff, discusses how she sees teens struggling in high school and gives advice to those who feel alone.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), in April of 2018, the suicide rate for ages 10-17 had gone up by 70% over the course of a decade. There are numerous factors that can play a part in this increase, but academic life is one of the biggest contributors. Denise Pope from Stanford University referred to schools as “pressure cookers'' because of all the stress and weight that school puts on children. Teens struggle with the pressure from their parents who go on every night about how much grades matter and that you have to be “perfect.” This is unachievable, but not always in the mind of a parent. But the overwhelming “monster” is the one inside a teens brain that says, “If you fail this test, then you are worthless!” A lot of teenagers have immense standards for themselves and if those standards aren't met, then their brains automatically go to the conclusion that they are dumb and have no direction in life.
Ms. Caroland has really good advice on how to at least downplay this cruel voice that tells people they aren't good enough. She says, “You need to practice self compassion. If you are a perfectionist who is struggling or you are a person in the deep depths of depression, you need to find something that is good for your soul. Something that eases those anxieties and evil voices that tell who you are and who you shouldn't be.”
Ms. Caroland’s best advice is to talk to someone. Everything tends to be amplified when you are alone in your thoughts. You may think you are all alone in what you are feeling whether that entails thoughts of self harm or feeling not worthy of being alive, but in reality, there are so many people even at this school that are struggling too, maybe even with the same situations/emotions.
In relation to the feeling of being all alone in the world, Ms. Caroland says, “Satan's biggest lie is that ‘only you feel this way,’ but God created us for each other. He has given us the gift of each other.” We were made to be relational human beings; we need human connection. Having your story heard by someone who actually cares for you can be extremely healing. So reach out to people, whether you are the one hurting or you are the one to reach out to someone who is obviously in pain.
When someone is feeling depressed and is at a really low point in life, their outer appearance and presence reflects that most of the time. When someone sees a person who is taking less care of themselves, questions pop up wondering if that person is okay. Mrs. Caroland says, “Reaching out to someone is always better than ignoring it.” Most of the time, our instincts are right, and if you see someone in your life that is falling behind, ask them if they are okay in a loving way. She recommends something to the effect of, “Hey--I am really sad that you are in that low of a place. You mean a lot to me. A lot of people would miss you.” This is a really great way to show that you care and want to be there for that person in whatever situation becomes present. Be a shoulder for them to lean on, as talking about how you feel is a really vulnerable and brave thing to do. If someone shares with you how they are really doing, they are trusting you to be there for them as they try and get better.
Talking to people your age is great, but there are some certain situations where you have to talk to an adult. If a teen or anyone for that matter is talking about wanting to harm themselves to you, you have to reach out to someone. You might be reading this and thinking, “Wait, isn’t that betraying their trust?” In this case, no it is not. That person might think it is, but it might be the thing that ends up saving them.
One last thing that Ms. Caroland touches on is how people are scared to speak up about how they are feeling. You might be scared of the things you will start to believe about yourself if you are put in a vulnerable situation. Statements like, “I am my anxiety,” or “I am my depression,” or “I am my eating disorder.” But those labels are incorrect. Your mental illness isn't a definition of you, it is only a small piece of who you are as a person. You are so much more than whatever you are battling in your head. So instead of saying those statements, think about it this way: “I struggle with anxiety,” “I struggle with depression,” “I struggle with disordered eating.” Those things are not a badge of identity, they are only pieces of your bigger story.
For those who do struggle, know that whatever you are feeling right now will not go away overnight. Sugarcoating it will not make it go away quicker, but asking for help will. You do not have to fight your battles alone, find a support system that loves you and wants you to be content with your life.
If you might be struggling with some of the things mentioned in this article, it's so important to reach out for help. You can contact Mr. Hutchinson, Ms. Caroland, reach out to an adult you trust, or contact the national suicide hotline (800)-273-8255.