In tutor time today, I happened to stumble upon the subject of Caroline Flack. We were talking about kindness and we were looking at the quote that she wrote on her Instagram just before she took her life – in a world where you can be anything, be kind.
For those of you who are not in the UK, Caroline was a famous TV presenter who got arrested for allegedly assaulting her boyfriend. The boyfriend didn’t want her charged, but between the court dates and losing her job, she was hounded on social media by trolls. She went on to commit suicide in February of last year.
I hadn’t planned to talk about this subject, but having started speaking, I couldn’t really reverse. I suddenly realised that I do not know these kids very well at all and if any of them had any trauma I could have done damage.
Luckily for me, they seemed interested in what happened to her and nobody seemed too upset. However, it did make me stop and think about how we approach subjects like this with young people. It’s so important that they understand how powerful their words are – even words that they have just typed.
My tutor group is made up of twelve and thirteen year olds, and I found that they really did seem too young to understand why someone would commit suicide. They are old enough to understand death, but the complexity of what happened to Caroline seemed a little too much for them to take on.
I remember when I was about seven a family friend committed suicide and my brain could not comprehend why it had happened. I was also morbidly fascinated and I remember asking lots of questions that were probably really inappropriate. I don’t know enough about child development to know if my lot really understand death – I mean, if I’m being honest, even I can’t quite grasp the fact that there will be an end to this adventure.
It does feel as though it’s important to speak to our young people about suicide, because it’s not a cry for help, and much of the time that’s all teenagers want to do. It’s a scary time for them as they become adults and crying out for a hand is to be expected, and healthy, and normal.
So all in all, I had another day of educating myself more than the kids as I thought really deeply about everything from mental health, trauma, respecting feelings and the power of my own words. One day the kids might actually learn more than I do!
3 thoughts on “talking about suicide with young people”
I’m very glad you were open and frank with these students, Rachel. That helps them process things, and gives them the message that you are safe to approach. If one of them is contemplating suicide, it’s probably incredibly helpful that you are a person who can be trusted – you’re not afraid of the topic. It reminds me of my very first year of teaching. We had a suicide in the school, and it shook everyone to the core. Many of my students wanted to talk about it. They didn’t want me to brush it off, and I didn’t. I’d like to think it helped them deal with it. Then, several years later, there was a murder at the uni where I was teaching. Again, students wanted to talk about it and think about it and process it. They seemed really grateful that I mentioned the elephant in the room, so they could open up.
“. . . I mean, if I’m being honest, even I can’t quite grasp the fact that there will be an end to this adventure.”
I can’t grasp it, either. Or why someone would end the adventure prematurely. But there are those who seek an end; it might be to pain or trauma or something like. As you emphasize the cry for help, I think you’re planting helpful seeds. And, after all, suicide is a reality of our lives and especially young lives.
Smelly Socks and Garden Peas
You never know, speaking openly about the fact that suicide happens could equip one of those young people to be aware of how someone’s feeling and prevent them from ending their downward spiral. Or it might help one of them feel self aware enough in the future to seek help before things get so bad for them it feels like their only way out. Bravo for not shying away from a scary topic.