Students, Speak With Sympathy: Suicide Prevention Week


Jane Zou

Wellness coordinator Maureen Muir notices a counselor videotaping before she begins the presentation outlining phrases to say to a struggling peer.

Jane Zou, Staff Writer

The week of Sept. 9 was World Suicide Prevention Week when mental health professionals, including the counseling department, encouraged people to seek medical and psychological help.

In honor of the week, wellness coordinator Maureen Muir, Project Success specialist Maleah Shank and Youth Action Team (YAT) held the “Say This, Not That….How to Help a Friend” presentation on Thursday.

“Previous presentations have focused on the warning signs of suicide, but the YAT students suggested focusing on how to help friends, because that has come up more, and students don’t feel like they know how to help,” Muir said.

Suicidal people often want to a solution to escape a distressing aspect of their lives. People would use coping strategies, and they convince themselves that suicide is unpreventable in this unhealthy mindset.

Suicide affects not only close family and peers, but the entire community as well.

“Research has shown that for each death by suicide, 147 people are affected by that death,” Shank said. “There is a distinct increase in suicidal ideation among those close to the person and those that may have not been close to them like other students at the same school.”

Without feeling comfortable to ask a trusted adult for guidance, struggling people might converse with peers or suicide hotlines about personal issues. An indifferent piece of misguided advice could mean the difference between life and death in severe situations. The counselors aimed to correct what people should say to a struggling peer.

Examples including asking directly if they are considering suicide to avoid miscommunication. Asking what is wrong with their recent behavior and providing logical solutions for their troubles are often not as effective as empathetic statements.

“I thought that giving solutions to their problems was helping, but being there for them was more important because then they knew I cared about them,” sophomore Jada Ulep said after the presentation.

Muir and Shank directed students to complete a brief poll asking if students had helped someone with suicidal thoughts. Another question asked what key phrases would be on a suicidal person’s social media, with responses like “feeling worthless.” Then, students watched two short films created by nearby high school students regarding suicide prevention.

Resources for suicide prevention and mental health awareness for at-risk students are on the Portola High counseling page.

“No matter how difficult life becomes, there is always hope,” Shank said.