In the past weeks, LifeWorks Guam has focused on spreading the word about how to lower the rate of suicide in our island.

We gave students and school workers information on preventing and intervening in suicide, and on dealing with its aftermath. We offered seven different presentations, each designed for a specific audience. The aim was to present practical ways to reach out to people who are feeling trapped and alone, and who are showing signs of hopelessness, helplessness, rejection, and depression.

We talked about the cardinal signs that a person may be thinking of suicide.

Studies show that suicidal people have mixed feelings, that they really don’t want to die, but – because of the continued struggle and emotional pain – they feel exhausted and trapped in a dark hole of emptiness. They finally decide there is no way out but to end it all.

Community must extend helping hands

During the presentations, LifeWorks emphasized society’s responsibility to reach out to and help suicidal people during their difficult journey.

Role-playing is vital to teaching and learning how to help. It lets LifeWorks evaluate how effectively it’s teaching the 3 Cs of suicide prevention: Connect, Communicate and Care. Sometimes, people at risk of suicide can mask their true feelings. It is up to us to recognize when friends or family members are behaving unusually.

We can no longer say we’re too busy, or that one’s child or student is just narcissistic and calling for attention. This belief has to stop. Instead, take a minute and find out what’s going on – in a comforting, caring way and in privacy.

“I noticed that you aren’t yourself lately. Can you tell me about it?” Students sometimes reply, “No, Ms. Halloran, I am okay,” but their body language says differently.

If your child or student is behaving out of character, prod patiently.

Journals can open a window to a child’s mind

One of LifeWorks’ main messages is this: “It is imperative that you know every student in your class.”

For years, parents have told me how frustrated they are.

They notify their children’s homeroom teachers (and school administrators, counselors, nurses and attendance officers) in writing about what’s happening in their children’s lives – the parents’ divorce, for example; or a death, be it through sickness, accident, a violent act, or suicide – but the schools offer their children no help to deal with the trauma.

A journal is an excellent tool to find out what is in your student’s or child’s mind. Inform your child in a calm manner that there will be times that you will be reading their journals. Please let them know that everything you read remains confidential and if you are a teacher you need to tell them there are only two reasons that you need to break this confidentiality:

1) if the student is at risk of being harmed, or

2) if the student is harming him- or herself.

If either is the case, tell them you will talk to them first but, by law, need to inform their parents. Also, affirm that you will be with them when you or the administration talks to their parents.

Taking a few minutes of our time, listening to our children and students, is worth the hope conveyed the lives saved. We must join forces together, as one community, to prevent the tragic loss of lives.

Marie Virata Halloran is a registered nurse certified in death and grief studies. She is the executive director of Rainbows for All Children Guam/LifeWorks Guam.

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