Editorial: Suicide Prevention Programs Should Use and Support Students

Suicide is an issue that everyone needs to consider. It’s something to understand, something to keep at bay.

After several years at number 10 on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s list of leading causes of death in the United States, suicide was finally ejected from the podium in 2020, but it took 350,000 people to die of covid-19 to do it. Without the pandemic, he would still be in the top 10.

For kids 15-19, it’s higher on the list. Third place. Only accidents and homicides cause more deaths. Cancer is a distant fourth.

But it’s still an uncomfortable topic. It’s the thing no one wants to talk about – like if we don’t recognize the dark shadow in the room, we can pretend everything is bright and sunny.

We can not. Suicide is not a disease. It is, however, a condition that results from trauma, pain or disease, whether physical, mental or emotional. It’s more than a symptom. It’s the terrible result that everyone wished they could have stopped if they hadn’t missed the panels.

At Valley High School, students are being trained to see these signs as the New Kensington-Arnold School District launches a team of hope.

The program is a nationwide effort to train teens to notice, understand and get help if someone is showing the telltale signs of self-harm.

It’s a valuable way to use the greatest resource a school has. It also capitalizes on the fact that a child may be more likely to talk to other children than to an adult or authority figure. This may fit well with other efforts such as the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Safe2Say Something program.

What programs like this cannot forget, however, is that these students who offer hope are still just children. They need as much support in a frightening and uncertain situation as the person who may be expressing suicidal thoughts.

This goes for parents and religious groups and other situations where people ask teenagers to be on the lookout, trying to protect each other. It’s not just about giving checklists of indicators and a map with a hotline. It provides open lines of communication and comforting hands to hold.