Most teachers are aware that a suicide epidemic exists among teens. In fact, you’ve probably heard many startling statistics, such as that suicide is the second-leading cause of death between ages 10 and 34, according to the National Institute for Mental Health. And maybe you’ve heard that 8.6% of high schoolers attempted suicide in the past 12 months, according to The American Foundation of Suicide Prevention.

Knowing what to do to decrease these statistics is often left unaddressed in workshops and fact sheets on the topic. What exactly can you do as an educator to help end teen suicide?

It’s About More Than Awareness

Jason Reid, founder of ChooseLife.org, founded the organization after losing his son to suicide about a year ago. The nonprofit’s mission is to end teen suicide by 2030. (You can learn more about Reid’s personal experience by watching his TEDx Talk.) Reid is passionate about translating awareness into action.

“At ChooseLife.org, we believe that it is time for change. We believe that the mental health community has done a great job of raising awareness about teen suicide. If you ask random people on the street if they are aware, they will say, ‘Yes, I am aware. Now what do we do about it?’”

Reid hopes to address this question and has assembled a group of leaders in education to put together a plan to specifically aid teachers — much in the same way he has put together a plan and resources for parents.

“I want to acknowledge how challenging it is to be a teacher in today’s work versus, say, when I grew up,” he says. “Their jobs are much more complicated.”

Know the Signs of Depression

It’s important to know the signs that a student may be experiencing depression or contemplating suicide. When you learn to recognize the signs, you are better able to help the student address what they are experiencing instead of the student feeling alone and misunderstood. Reid shared that he now looks back and realizes some of the signs his own son was exhibiting that went unnoticed at the time. He is adamant about helping parents and educators learn what to look out for.

Because you, as an educator, spend so much time with your students, you have the unique opportunity to observe changes in your students’ behaviors that may indicate they are experiencing depression or suicidal thoughts. After all, students often see their teachers more than their parents because of the length of the school day.

“Sometimes kids feeling suicidal will remove themselves socially and emotionally,” Reid says. “If you see a change, be willing to ask the tough questions. The worst thing that will happen is [your student] will say yes, and you can get them the help they need.”

Warning signs to look out for include:

  • Lack of interest in activities once enjoyed
  • Sudden decrease/increase in appetite
  • Sudden changes in appearance (lack of hygiene, taking less care with appearance than usual)
  • Decreased academic performance
  • Preoccupation with death and suicide
  • Making final arrangements (giving away possessions, saying goodbye)

As a teacher, you can easily notice any changes in grades, interest and appearance in your students, which is incredibly valuable.

Know What to Say to Your Students

One of the most significant barriers to parents and teachers talking to teens about depression and suicidal intent is the misconception that talking to kids about depression or suicide, will plant the thoughts in their head.

“This is absolutely false,” Reid says. “If those thoughts are already in the child’s head, being willing to bring them out is the only way they will ever get better.”

The myth that talking about suicide will put the idea in a teen’s head has been disproven by multiple research studies, according the National Institute for Mental Health. In fact, talking with them about this subject might be the only way to find out what they are going through.

In an interview with University of Michigan Health, Dr. Cheryl King offers some helpful tips when talking to teens about depression and suicide, including:

  • Be direct and keep the lines of communication open.
  • Normalize their experience.
  • Stay calm.
  • Listen.
  • Take a collaborative approach.

While the topic may be difficult to bring up and the conversation may feel awkward, it’s important to push through and ask the question. Remember, this could be the first time your student is verbalizing what they’ve been struggling with internally. By starting the conversation, listening compassionately and without judgment, and taking a collaborative approach, you are helping your student feel less alone and more hopeful.

Depression is a painful disease to live with, and it can have devastating consequences if left unaddressed.

“If you see a change, be willing to ask the tough questions,” Reid emphasizes. “I didn’t get the chance to ask my son if he was suicidal. You do. Take the chance.”

You could be the difference between a student feeling alone and hopeless or getting the help they desperately need.


Julia Marie Hogan, LCPC

Counselor + Writer

Julia Marie Hogan is a counselor in Chicago and owner of Vita Optimum Counseling & Consulting, LLC. She also leads workshops and writes on topics related to self-care, relationships and mental health. Her book, It's Ok to Start with You is all about the power of embracing your authentic self through self-care. She is passionate about empowering individuals to be their most authentic selves. You can find more of her writing online at juliamariehogan.com.

Contact Julia Hogan

Instagram | juliamariehogan.com

The opinions, representations and statements made within this guest article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of One in Five Minds or Clarity Child Guidance Center. Any copyright remains with the author and any liability with regard to infringement of intellectual property rights remain with them. One in Five Minds and Clarity Child Guidance Center accepts no liability for any errors, omissions or representations.