Short Notes: Comments On Suicide From Bill, Heather, And … Anonymous

Jose Vilson Short Notes 2 Comments

Unbeknownst to me, October 10th was World Mental Heath Day, a day after I wrote my post on students and suicide. Rather than reflecting in meta, I’ll share some of my colleagues’ comments to the post, all of which moved me in a profound way.

First, Bill Ivey:

One of my former students, then a Senior at another local school, killed herself two weeks ago. Though she only passed through my classroom for a few weeks before she and her mother agreed she would return to her previous school (where the mother worked), I remembered her well and was (and remain) deeply shaken. Her funeral was last Friday, and my colleague (who had previously worked in that other district) and I were talking about it. All you can do, she said, is work your hardest to support them and give them a sense of their own wonderful intrinsic worth, and maybe work even harder to help them when something like this happens. You reinforce the fundamental importance of caring and reaching out, even when we have no clue where that strength is coming from. I need that today. Thank you.

Then, Heather Wolpern-Gawron:

Just last week, something similar happened to me with one of my most unique and innovative students. he’s a quirky girl who has a darkness about her behind her smiles. He’s popular because she’s straightforward, but it’s clear how well she’s like doesn’t trump the darkness going on at home. I just happen to overhear a conversation she was having in whispers at a table during passing period. I heard words like “I tried to once” and “deep sadness.” It didn’t take Sherlock Holmes to put it together. I thought long and hard about mentioning something given that she hadn’t come to me with it, but rather my ears had intruded on her private dialogue. However, something of that nature, and what I suspected was her call out to someone, I felt, could not be ignored. The “What if” game is just too terrible to think about. I messaged her on our campus Facebook-esque site, My Big Campus, in much the same way you spoke to your student. She never responded. Yesterday, she came up to me and said, “Mrs Wolpert, you remember what you wrote to me the other day?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Well, I just wanted you to know I appreciated it. And I, well, I spoke to my mom about what I’d tried to do and, I don’t know what this means, but I’m seeing someone to talk to next week. It feels weird.”

I smiled and told her I was proud of her. That talking to someone could give her tools to get through a hard time. I also reminded her that she can also find her own tools: friends, mom, or even a teacher. We’re all tools for them, right?

Then, an anonymous comment:

This week, a 10th grader at my son’s school committed suicide. This is the third in five years. The school jumps up and down about its district-wide anti-bullying programs, but none of these students were bullied. My teenager hopes that they switch their focus to depression, how to recognize it, how to get help or how to get help for a friend. My twelve year-old just wants to be held and to know why.

A long time ago, I used to teach an advisory class. As a final question, I would ask the students, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if you do tell a counselor? Your friend gets mad, right? What’s the worst that can happen if you don’t tell?” Silence. “Let’s not ever let that happen.”

Thank you all.

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 2

  1. Michele Gilliam

    Thank you for this. In addition to the overall stigma, there is a lot of ignorance on depression in children and teenagers. The anti-bully and “It Gets Better” campaigns are starts, but we need to dig deeper and really tend to young people’s emotional and mental health.

  2. ms_teacher

    Hi Jose,
    Nothing is more scarier to a parent than a knock at the door in the middle of the night. When my daughter was 15, she told a friend she was going to kill herself. She had a plan in place. This friend told her parents & her parents called the police. The police showed up and our daughter was placed into intensive counseling. She was a cutter and continued to cut herself throughout high school.

    When she turned 18, she no longer thought she needed counseling. At the age of 19, she ended up in the emergency room after slashing both wrists. She was admitted on a “5150” to a mental institution, where she stayed for about two weeks. She was diagnosed as being bi-polar, but because she was in denial, she didn’t believe there was anything wrong. She also didn’t care for the psychiatrist that she was seeing and so, within a matter of months, she was off her medications.

    This past week, she was not in a good place & recognized that she probably needed to go see a psychiatrist, which I wrote about in my blog just today. Both she and my youngest also have been diagnosed with severe anxiety. In her case, it is linked to being bi-polar. In my son’s case, it manifested itself when he was very young and again, through intensive counseling and two years of being on a low-dose of prozac, he is now a well adjusted 16 year old.

    Unless and until we start removing the stigma that is attached to mental illness, we will continue to have young people take their own lives. I have experienced first-hand the ignorance that comes from family members and/or friends question whether or not my husband and I are just making excuses for our kids, or not being demanding enough, or not setting enough boundaries, or whatever. The funny irony to me is that every person who meet my daughter and my son almost always compliment us on how likable & polite they are – both of them very nice people to be around.

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that my son will not have a relapse as he gained very good coping skills in dealing with anxiety. He avidly works out, which is something that has been directly linked in helping people deal with their anxiety. For my daughter, she is most likely going to have a tougher rode to tow. As an almost 24 year old, I have people criticize us because she has not been able to complete a school program and has been unable to keep down a job. However, you cannot hold her to the same standard as someone else who isn’t fighting the particular demons she is fighting.

    We almost lost her twice & every day that she is here, I take as a blessing.

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