“I’m thinking about killing myself.”
It’s a phrase no youth worker ever wants to hear. But stay in ministry long enough and you will.
I remember the first time I heard it. I felt panicked and in many ways, frozen. I was unsure what to do and yet I felt the weight of every word I said. I knew my actions could determine whether this student lived or died.
Because I was caught so completely off-guard in that moment, once the immediate crisis passed, I began learning all I could about how to respond to suicidal students. I quickly realized that the more prepared you are for this situation, the more you’ll be able to actually help a suicidal student in the moment. With that in mind, here are 10 strategies for dealing with suicidal kids.
Never promise a student who wants to talk that you’ll keep what’s said confidential.
Often, a suicidal student begins by saying something along the lines of, “I have something I want to tell you but you have to promise you won’t tell anyone else.” That kind of statement should always be a red flag for you. You simply CANNOT promise a student that you won’t tell anyone else what they’re about to tell you. In some places and denominations, youth workers are actually mandatory reporters, which means you’re required by law to report a student who’s being harmed, harming someone else, or in danger of harming themselves. Even if this is not the case for you, no matter how much training you’ve had, you cannot handle a suicidal kid by yourself. You MUST involve other people. So, rather than promising a student that you’ll keep something confidential, promise them that you’ll listen to them and walk with them through whatever they’re about to tell you.
Be wary of “friends”.