Column: Managing mental health crises this school year | Opinion


This is intended for teachers and school counsellors.

There will be mental health crises this school year.

In the middle of planning your lessons, policing the playground, patrolling the lunchroom, writing IEPs, wiping noses, throwing up, picking up trash , bus driving, meeting naps, assistant coaching, fight officiating, chase dodging and teaching – a kid or teen is on the way to you in pain. So much pain that they want to escape it.

By any means necessary.

Let’s say the scary S-word. We will do it together.


People in most professions don’t have constituents who come to them with suicidal thoughts.

Bankers? No.

Accountants? Unless it’s tax season.

Engineers? Again, no.

But you do. So put away the Harry Potter indoctrination wands that the political hacks accuse you of soldering and let’s talk about real life and death for a minute.

Here’s the real world you’ve been given – and you might want to turn your head if you’re disgusted:

Suicides among Oklahomans ages 10 to 24 rose 41% from 2006 to 2019, becoming the second leading cause of death in that age group. Such a surge has made Oklahoma one of the top 10 states for people who kill themselves, placing us sixth nationally and placing us 8 deaths per 100,000 above the national average.

Although the state standards conflict with the laws passed by our Bigfoot-hunting legislators, I understand that the State Board of Education wants you to follow the standards so they can then demote your district for not following laws (Trent Smith is not Mark Andrews, by the way).

However, if a student tells you they are going to kill themselves, I do not recommend referring to 8.5.1 of the Oklahoma Academic Standards for Social Studies and teaching a lesson on “the impact of peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another. This could make a group of people uncomfortable. They could report you and your district could be downgraded.

Besides, it’s not going to help the child.

Instead, here are three things to listen to:


In other words, this means: am I in contact with other people? Feeling accepted by others is essential for psychological health and well-being. On the other hand, if the student feels that they are prevented – or prevented – from belonging, this basic human need is not satisfied. Some studies have shown that loneliness is worse for your health than smoking or obesity.

Ask yourself: is the student alone? Does the student have someone to take care of or is there someone to take care of the student?

Listen to phrases such as: “I have no one, not even a family”, “There is no one to turn to”, or “I feel like everyone has left me, everyone world”.


In other words, this means: The student feels that everyone would be better off without him. They feel that their very existence is a burden on their loved ones and therefore their death would be more beneficial than their life. It is a perception and usually a false belief. The perceived heaviness combined with a thwarted belonging constitute the desire for suicide.

Listen to phrases like, “Everyone would be better off if I just walked away,” “I don’t do anything but cause trouble and cost money,” or “I’m just a problem.”


In other words, it means: a person’s fear of death is low and he no longer feels the sense of self-preservation. The pupil is desensitized to painful stimuli and can more easily commit suicide. Physical pain, serious illness, trauma, and self-harm, among others, can result in a learned ability to self-injure.

When a college student brings you a mug full of upset belonging, perceived heaviness, and learned capacity for self-harm, you have a suicide cocktail on your hands. Do not leave the student, but call for help.

Kelly S. Wray teaches counseling and clinical psychology at Cameron University and has been a licensed alcohol and drug counselor since 2015.

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• Suicidal thoughts are more frequent

• Suicidal thoughts are less controllable*

• There are fewer deterrents

• The motivation is to stop the pain

* A metaphor for determining if the student is in control of his thoughts: are you driving the bus and the suicide appears as a passenger, or is the suicide driving the bus and you are tied up in the back?

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Two myths about suicide

1. Suicide is cowardly. Not true. The fear of death is a natural and powerful instinct. This natural instinct must be overcome for a person to commit the act.

2. Asking about suicide will plant the idea. Research shows that is not true. Asking a student if they are thinking about suicide will not increase their death wish. On the contrary, it will likely make them feel heard, seen and less invisible – and lessen their desire for death.


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