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

Jose Vilson Short Notes

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.