The change was not too difficult for me to see. Dark eye shadow. All black clothing. That hopeless look on her face when she wandered into my class every day. Every time I talked to her, she shrugged me off. She shut out her friends, her family, and was content in slunking down in her chair, hoping nobody would notice her. Well, it was too obvious not to notice her, which prompted me to keep her after class one day to probe a little deeper. Nothing. She wasn’t willing to open up just yet. But a week later she was the one who approached me, laying a “work of fiction” as she called it on my desk as she moved on to her next class.
Now when a Language Arts teacher gets an eight-page “work of fiction” to read on top of what is already needed to be graded, most teachers would probably cringe. I am sure I did my fair share of cringing, knowing my time was all too precious—until I became lost in her work. First of all, it was written beautifully. Secondly, this fictional character that she wrote about was eerily similar to what I saw in this poor little girl. Depressed. Suicidal. I made my way down to the counselor’s office the moment the character attempted suicide and was recovering in a psychiatric ward. The baton was passed.
Ever notice kids like these in your classes? Kids that shut themselves out from the world. Kids that rarely if ever smile. Kids that express anger, hopelessness, or spill pained tears of sadness beneath hands that shield their faces? Be watchful. Paul tells us, “Be on the alert, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16: 13-14). If you have a heart, if you call yourself a Christian teacher, it is your duty to reach out to these kids. In love. And it all starts with you being present at your door as your classes spill into your room. Scope the scene out. Call students by name. If you see any that barge by you, head down, making a beeline for their desks, follow up with that kid. A simple, “Hey, how’s it going today?” or “Everything okay?” is a nice icebreaker.
Statistically, early spring is a hot time for suicidal thoughts. The second leading cause of death for ages 10-24 is suicide—more than cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease, COMBINED. Equally as important as suicide are students who self-harm. These kids are ones that intentionally harm themselves through cutting, burning, hitting, or banging body parts. It has sadly almost become a trend amongst teens as a way to deal with their pain. These kids many times will try to cover their wrists or the inner part of their thighs to hide what they have been doing. They do not have suicidal intentions, but they need help just as much. That is where you come in.
Be on alert! Check for this on a daily basis. Every class. Every passing period. Before or after school, on or off your supervision duty. I have 126 students flowing through my classroom throughout the day, a little overwhelming at times, but God calls me to know them all. Do you know your students? You may not be trained in counseling their problems, but every school has a counselor. Get these loving adults involved! Pass the baton to someone who can finish the race for you. And then check up on these kids. Follow up with them. Ask them about their lives. They may even open up to you as my student above did so to me a few years back.
That story has a happy ending by the way. That girl got the help she needed in a hospital with trained professionals, but the biggest reward came afterwards. She rewrote that fictional story as a personal narrative. An essay to be exact. She entered the Breaking Barriers Essay Contest in the spring, a contest that I am promoting right now actually, and emptied her heart about how she nearly tried suffocating herself to death with a pillow. She credited me with saving her life, but it wasn’t me. It was God. It was God that urged me to check in with her. He gets the glory on that one. The essay didn’t win any awards, but it won my heart, and I will keep it the rest of my life as a reminder of the power God has in our lives, not to mention a compassionate teacher.
Some of you may downplay your intuitiveness. You may say you are not qualified to help with these types of problems. Well, you may not be a counselor, but you can get these kids to a counselor. Look for the warning signs. Withdrawn from family and friends. Crying easily. Talking about death. Looks of hopelessness. Mood swings. Losing interest in things they may seem to care about. Two teachers saw this happening in the lunchroom last week with a student near the teachers’ table. God bless Joan and Bethany for seeing this poor kid and acting upon their instincts. He is currently recovering in a hospital with trained professionals. All because they were watchful. All because they cared.
My life verse is Philippians 4: 13: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” I can’t do this on my own, and neither can you, but I tell you what. The power of Christ reigns supreme, and if that river of love and compassion is flowing through your heart, you can save a life. How awesome is that?
“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Corinthians 1: 3-4).
(There are so many songs that come to mind when it comes to thoughts of depression or suicide; however, there is an old REM song called “Everybody Hurts” that speaks a lot of truth to what these kids are going through. It is not a worship song, so suggesting a student to listen to it might actually bring them comfort. Listen to it below.)