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September 17, 2012

TLC GUEST BLOGGER: Barb Dorrington, MEd

Suicide. As a school social worker, the sound of the word catches my attention immediately. When I learn that a student has died by suicide, my thoughts turn to worries for the contagion effect in a school building. Research statistics suggest at least one in 10 students have had serious thoughts about suicide or made an attempt.

We cannot forget how environmental factors affect our biology. Abuse and a history of trauma leave a biological footprint on the brain. Recent research out of Montreal, Canada compared the brains of males who had died by suicide. Changes in DNA cells in the brain uncovered a link between childhood trauma and suicide. This only confirms what we already knew– that trauma has biologically profound effects. Trauma awareness and suicide training programs, such as the ones TLC offer, are crucial for mental health literacy, especially in a school setting.

With the impact of this research, strategies to shift the brain from negative to neutral to positive thought are extremely important.  Students, as well as educators, need to take the secrecy and stigma out of mental illness and educate staff and students on signs and symptoms and how to help.

Surviving friends of a teenager who has died by suicide experience a devastating level of powerlessness and helplessness, which in turn siphons off hope. As an art therapist, I learned that if one can draw, one can imagine. If one can imagine, one can hope. I have watched with curiosity how teens, when motivated to act in a helpful and kind way, show gratitude for what they have and respond to a new hope arising out of tragedy. They do better when they “do.”  Dr. Bessel van der Kolk  supports this approach. He speaks of the brain being an “action organ” and suggests people are physically organized to respond to things that happen to them with some kind of action.

Trauma debriefing, following a suicide in a school, has its own unique difficulties as educators look to organize adequate follow up in order to contain a contagious reaction in the school building. Working with a suicide protocol like the one TLC teaches in an online course provides intervention plans and strategies for assisting staff in schools.

Additionally, teens look to each other for support. Finding ways to foster hope is crucial. Providing mandalas for drawing as a way of encouraging mindful reflection, organizing a memorial, writing letters to the grieving family, creating a memory board and journaling all support a return to positive thought, action and clear thinking. Social networking sites have been known to be a breeding ground for posting suicidal comments and create havens of negativity. Yet, educators often learn too late about the postings of such comments.

An Ontario, Canada school board recently had a series of suicides in their schools, and their action plan was to create a powerful video called “Peel Schools Stand Up for Student Mental Health.” This four-minute video is now posted on YouTube. Stand up for mental health and take a TLC course, learn all you can about how brain science impacts suicide, and be part of the change towards reducing the statistics on teen suicide.

Barb Dorrington

One Comment leave one →
  1. September 26, 2012 2:26 am

    Great article. As well as engaging young people in ‘doing’ the strategy of engagement by fostering hope is a realistic alternative to the downward spiral that occurs too often. Finding ways to use social media to support positive action will create opportunities for meaningful responses as a youth deals with a tragedy such as suicide of a peer.

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