Have you ever stopped to think how much time a teenager spends in their life in their school? What if, in this context, time was dedicated to caring for mental health and promoting emotional well-being? The answer is clear: benefits, improvements and progress.
Suicide deaths have increased in the last year. In Spain it is already the leading cause of unnatural death in the age group between 15 and 29 years. The latest report from the National Institute of Statistics (INE) states that 3 941 people lost their lives by suicide .
Furthermore, for each completed suicide, an estimated 20 attempts are estimated, which is almost 73,000 suicide attempts per year.
Suicidal behavior encompasses a wide variety of behaviors that are not restricted to death by suicide. Suicide thoughts and attempts are just two examples of this multifaceted phenomenon.
For example, a recent study carried out in Spain indicated that approximately 30% of the adolescents surveyed had indicated having suicidal ideas in the last six months. Current data on self-harm or suicide attempts show that many young people continue to suffer in silence.
The best place to prevent
The best way to tackle this phenomenon is prevention. And the natural context par excellence where to do it are the educational centers. Even so, there are still no designed and validated programs in Spain that work on the prevention of suicidal behavior and the promotion of emotional well-being in the classroom.
There are effective intervention measures and resources for the prevention of suicidal behavior in the school context. In the first place, the prevention of suicidal behavior requires the collaborative work of all the agents involved in the school context .
For this reason, it is extremely important to train and inform the entire educational community to know how to act when any alarm signal is detected that indicates that a student is suffering or is not able to face the difficulties of life at that moment. In this sense, the same colleagues can be good preventive agents. The training of educational personnel after a suicide attempt at the center is also key.
Adequate spaces and professionals
Second, it is important to have spaces and well-qualified professionals in which adolescents can communicate, with privacy and freedom, how they are and what concerns them.
Having a person to talk to and feel listened to allows generating an essential line of support in the process of preventing suicidal behavior. In addition, it is essential in the detection and resolution of other phenomena such as bullying.
Third, it is essential to design action protocols that allow directing and addressing situations in which there are young people with suicidal ideation or attempts. The way to proceed (and to understand this phenomenon) in these early stages, before reaching a possible fatal outcome, can be decisive.
Mental health in the classroom
Fourth and last, it would be convenient to work in the classrooms on essential aspects for mental health, such as learning skills for handling crisis situations, training in problem solving, strategies for cognitive flexibility and emotional regulation. , just to name a few.
If we do not develop these competencies during the years of compulsory education, when do we expect youth to learn to deal with the problems of life and suffering?
As Benjamin Franklin said , “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”
Examples that work
Several international publications show that there are universal school prevention programs that have managed to reduce the numbers of suicidal behavior and, above all, the suffering among the youngest. The components that show the greatest efficacy are:
- Awareness and education: training, informing, sensitizing and raising awareness about suicidal behavior among the youngest allows to better identify the warning signs and learn when and how to ask for help.
- Peer leadership training : instructing their own classmates on the detection of suicidal behavior helps to refer and seek proximity with trusted adults in the school.
- Training of center staff: offering information on risk and protection factors to all agents involved in educational centers improves identification and referral to mental health experts if necessary.
- Screening of students at risk: early detection allows intervention and referral in the early stages. It is important to put into action a community support network that allows a better evolution of the detected problem, whether of clinical or social characteristics.
- Competency training: directing the vision to the acquisition of strengths and resources, and not only to addressing the existing risk factors, it allows the youngest to acquire strategies and skills to face their problems.
Know how to know, know how to do, know how to be and know how to live together
Education is not only restricted to theoretical knowledge. The education of being demands much beyond the academic curriculum. Today’s society needs people who are aware of the importance of personal and interpersonal care. All of this is essential for mental health and, in this regard, the educational context is the best scenario.
Suicidal behavior is a very long path that can be understood and detected in its first steps. For this, early detection and subsequent effective intervention is necessary, as well as the training of all agents, especially in educational centers, where adolescents spend most of their time.
The mental health of our adolescents is a social responsibility. Well-trained professionals and public resources are necessary. But, in addition, each of us has a role that can help reduce suffering and, with it, suicidal thoughts and attempts.
Author Bios: Adriana Díez Gómez del Casali is Professor of Psychology, Alicia Pérez de Albéniz Iturriaga is a University Professor in the area of Developmental and Educational Psychology, Eduardo Fonseca Pedrero is Professor of University, Psychology all at the University of La Rioja and Susana Al-Halabí who is Professor of Psychology at the University of Oviedo