We have a pandemic in our area. A crisis so large and looming that my heart hurts. No, it's not the Zika virus. It's something worse. Incredibly worse. It's suicide and it's infecting our teens.
In the last two weeks, four kids in our region have decided life was too hard, too cold, too uncaring, too complicated, too much--and they opted out. I didn't know a single one of these kids but my gut grieves them. What moves a young person to give up?
Survivors are left with a myriad of emotions: guilt, confusion, guilt, loss, guilt, sorrow, and more guilt. Did I mention guilt? Guilt riddles the world of those left behind, with the question "Why?" hovering, ever-present in the minds of those who live.
Suicide swirls in the minds of teens, tempting them with an "easy" solution, that is infinitely hard on loved ones. It's a solution that leaves those behind with no solution at all. No answers. No understanding. Instead they slog through a slough of emotions, trying not to be angry at the person who took his/her own life. But it's hard not to resent that person. Why did you do it, we want to ask. But there's no one left to ask. So we're left with questions and guilt and remorse for not having cared more for the person.
Why am I taking space to write about teen suicide? Because I NEED to. As a teacher, I've seen far too many kids, some of them MY kids, decide to take an exit slip from life. I've had to look into the pain-filled eyes of parents where I've jumbled weightless words that I'm sure offered no comfort at all. I've sat with wounded students who are just as confused as I, tears trailing our faces as we talked about the missing link to our lives.
Yet in the midst of this negative situation, I see a ray of hope. A little life saver that may help to stem these desperate measures. It's called relationships. As a teacher, building relationships with my kids is priority one in my classroom. I want them to know I care, I'm there, and I dare to help them. That they matter to someone in this life. That their existence has meaning.
As difficult as it sometimes is to reach these desperate souls, it's a starting point. If I'm consistent and equitable in my treatment of students, a tenuous relationship begins to build. Slowly, determinedly, hopefully these young people will see that someone cares about them. Slowly, determinedly, and hopefully these young people will break out of the muck of inferiority and helplessness and despondency they are mired in and realize these emotions are only temporary. Life can get better. It WILL get better. They just need to hang on to someone who cares--like a teacher.
Show you care and be intentional in building relationships with your students--even the ones you don't gravitate to. Let that tenuous relationship grow. We can curtail the pandemic in our land by reaching out and caring. Really caring. Make an effort to show that care today.
It can make all the difference.