Taking a look at the role of schools in promoting wellbeing and preventing teenage suicide
Every generation struggles with a significant issue that changes hearts and minds. With the current rise of communication technology and social media, youth suicide is once again infiltrating and devastating our schools, communities and families.
Teachers in schools are some of the greatest influencers on building hope in young people. Schools have the critical role in providing the toolkit that each student needs to flourish and the approach schools take is crucial. Being delicate with serious and substantial matters is often hard to navigate and even harder to become consistent in.
Educational leaders know that being able to communicate appropriately is a formidable force when dealing with sensitive issues. With the growing awareness of the effects of wellbeing on academic performance, there is a genuine interest in investing energy, resources and ideas into helping young people understand suicide.
We must be proactive. An inclusive approach allows initial buy-in and engagement, empowering young people by building a safe, confidential space for ongoing dialogue and expert help to be made available. It incorporates daily dedication to helping each student to flourish, through direct and intentional interaction with the issue of youth suicide prevention and how students can help themselves and others.
Recent research by the London School of Economics indicated that a child’s emotional health is the biggest factor driving success and wellbeing in adult life. It also showed that an inability of educational institutions to recognise the importance of a child or teenager’s mental health to future success leads to less successful adults.
At my school in Australia we are introducing inclusive and holistic approaches to student emotional and mental health, with an emphasis on frameworks that anchor and inspire students in an age appropriate way. We intend to grow bravery and courage in students. This process has a sixfold platform:
- Connect – build intentional positive and professional relationships with students.
- Equip – create learning frameworks that enable quality and research-based information to be shared in a safe and supportive environment where it can be questioned, pondered and applied.
- Challenge – engage the difficult, painful and awkward with clarity, hope and purpose. Be brave, so students feel they have the permission to be brave.
- Appreciate – intentional cultivation of gratitude, thankfulness and hope through targeted initiatives.
- Serve – enable action through service to others to grow capacities in students to be carriers of messages of hope and change for other young people.
- Anchor – reimagine the story of wellbeing and mental health in your context, reinforce the help available and allow space to create opportunities for dialogue that is safe and supportive.
Schools need to start an ongoing conversation with students, specifically (though not exclusively) with those aged between about 12 and 16, and provide clear channels of communication for and with students. We need to equip staff to be able to engage with students and track their mental health, using a holistic approach to wellbeing that enables students to thrive.
Being proactive in this area gives our students the ability to become informed decision makers, equipped with the skills and tools to identify areas of self-improvement and self-empowerment. Improved student wellbeing has direct links to the lowering of negative and high-level risk taking.
As we continue to shine a light on sensitive subjects with our students, let us be brave and proactive as communities when dealing with issues such as youth suicide. We should empower our young people to help build a framework that is flexible and dynamic enough to change their world and the world around them.
Adam Osborne is Deputy Headmaster of The Blue Mountains Grammar School, New South Wales, Australia: