This piece is part of “Dear Adult Leaders: #ListenToYouth,” a four-week series produced in collaboration with The 74 to elevate student voices in the national conversation as schools and districts navigate how to educate our country’s youth in a global pandemic. In this series, students write open letters to adult leaders and policymakers about their experiences and how, from their perspectives, the American education system should adapt. Read all the pieces in this series as they are published here. Read the The 74's other coverage of issues affecting young people here. This week’s letters focus on the issue of including youth in the decision-making process.
Dear school administrators,
Mental health awareness is becoming more widespread than ever before, but we’d be hard pressed to argue that it is really making a difference. Are the suicide prevention videos that schools are required to show during homeroom even being watched? The answer is no. Most students don’t pay attention to those videos, and we don’t gain any knowledge of how to help our friends who have suicidal thoughts.
Schools need to know that connection is key to retaining information. Students need to connect with the content in order to remember it. For example, my health teacher, Ms. Giovenco, told a personal story about a friend in college who dealt with suicidal thoughts. Many of her friends knew of these struggles but didn’t tell an adult. That girl could still be alive if any one of her friends had known what to do.
Many students have doubts about telling an adult about a friend’s suicidal thoughts, but Ms. Giovenco seemed to understand why. She knew that we think that telling an adult would be betraying that friend’s trust. However, she asked us if we would rather have our friend hate us — but alive — or if we’d rather have that friend dead. That direct question was enough for me to realize that when faced with such a situation, I need to go to an adult.
The lesson Ms. Giovenco taught was so memorable because she wasn’t someone in a video who seemed so far away, but rather someone whose presence guided us through her experience. Human connection is the way we learn most effectively. Videos cannot replace that connection, so we need speakers who can share their knowledge on suicide prevention with students so we can make that human connection and remember information.
My best friend told me that one of our friends was sending her suicidal text messages and that she didn’t know what to do. I knew that we didn’t have the right expertise to really help our friend, so I told her that we needed to call our local crisis prevention center so we could get professional advice on what actions we should take to prevent our friend from hurting himself. It was a tough decision to make, but the only reason why I knew what to do was because of my health teacher. It wasn’t the suicide prevention videos or articles we had to read that made me hop into action, it was the story she told that spoke to me. That is why human connection is the key to really spreading mental health awareness information.
Instead of playing videos on suicide prevention, I urge all schools to have speakers come in and tell students directly about their experiences and how we can save lives. This allows for a more personal forum where the speaker can make a personal connection with students, and where they can actually interact with students and answer their questions. It is in this way that many more students will know how to handle severe mental health crises with their peers.
Jena Le, 15
Sherwood High School