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Suicide Prevention Should Not Be Optional

(Kentucky Incentives for Prevention Survey)

“Why should I have to watch the video when I know I don’t want to kill myself?”

It is the beginning of the school year, which means the annual suicide prevention video. This is the one time a year where mental health is addressed to the whole schoolthe whole school except for the students who signed the opt-out form, that is. But in a state where 20% of students admit to self harm and 15% admit to seriously contemplating suicide, should we be able to opt-out of the video? In a time where there is already a stigma around mental health and suicide, providing the opportunity to opt-out encourages this stigma.

I understand why students would want to opt-out. Suicide is a hard topic to discuss, and if we aren’t suicidal, why should we have to watch this video? We pretend it does not concern us because we aren’t suicidal, and we don’t want to imagine our friends so depressed the only solution they see is to end their life. If we don’t talk about it, we can pretend it doesn’t happen. By making the discussion of suicide and mental health optional, we decrease awareness of mental health issues and prevent students from learning what to do if they are struggling with their mental health or what to do if their friend is struggling with mental health.

If we don’t talk about it, we can pretend it doesn’t happen.

After the suicide prevention video, we were handed a little white card that had two options to choose from: “I do need to talk to someone about myself or a friend” or “I do not need to talk to someone about myself or a friend.” I looked at the card for a long time before finally checking “I do not.” Why did it take me so long? I didn’t know if one of my friends needed help. I didn’t know if the jokes my friends had made about killing themselves were jokes or if they were a cry for help. This realization frightened me. What if one of my friends was suffering from suicidal thoughts and I just assumed it was a joke? Would it be my fault if they killed themselves because I didn’t take their comment seriously?

When I began writing this piece, I became more curious about what my peers and teachers would say about this topic. I conducted three roundtables: two of them with randomly selected students and one with volunteer teachers. It was incredibly interesting to hear my teachers talk about this subject. My English teacher stated, “I don’t think it [addressing and preventing suicide] is necessarily as much a school problem as it is a societal problem… we as a society don’t know how to fix this problem. It is bigger than our school, and our school is just reflecting society in how we are not always effective.” I agree that our problem stems from outside of schools. If society can get rid of the stigma around mental health, care and help within schools will be exponentially better.

Author Sofie Farmer

When I pressed my classmates, they suggested spreading out the mental health awareness within our school throughout the school year. For many students, mental health is only addressed at the beginning of the year and is forgotten as the year progresses. They felt it was especially important in particularly stressful times, like the end of terms and during winter where seasonal depression is common. It was nice to confirm that many of my peers do not believe that our school is any more vulnerable to depression than other schools and they felt like they could recognize if a friend was suffering from depression or anxiety.

To many teens that do not suffer from a mental health disorder, suicide doesn’t seem like something that could happen to us or our friends. It seems so implausible that we turn it into a joke. Walk into any school and I am sure you will hear something like, “this class makes me want to kill myself” or “I almost killed myself over the homework last night.” I know I have made a joke like that before, just like many other students. We don’t think about the weight of what we are saying, and most of the time we don’t actually mean we want to kill ourselves. This has created a problem like the one I faced with deciding which box to check. How are people to know when someone actually does want to commit suicide? How can we tell the difference between a joke and a serious statement? The solution is simple: we need to stop turning suicide into a joke.

Just like many other issues, the best solution is to be proactive. We can’t wait until we have lost someone and suicide has affected us personally before we begin discussing suicide and mental health. We need to get rid of the stigma around mental health and openly discuss it and suicide. Groups like StAMINA are already making strides into decreasing this stigma and raising awareness. Schools should look for more opportunities throughout the year to discuss mental health and raise awareness. We need to stop making jokes about suicide and mental health. We should not opt-out of discussions and videos because we are afraid that talking about suicide makes it real. Suicide is already real.

We should not opt-out of discussions and videos because we are afraid that talking about suicide makes it real. Suicide is already real.

If you are suffering from suicidal thoughts, reach out to someone. Tell them what is going on. If you do not want to talk to someone you know, the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. If you know someone suffering from suicidal thoughts, talk to someone who can help, such as a counselor or doctor. Educate yourself on suicide and mental health awareness so you can help others who are suffering.

The world is a better place with you in it.

Sofie Farmer is a sophomore at Danville High School.

Since 1983, the Prichard Committee has worked to study priority issues, inform the public and policy makers about best practices and engage citizens, business leaders, families, students, and other stakeholders in a shared mission to move Kentucky to the top tier of all states for education excellence and equity for all children, from their earliest years through postsecondary education.