Treasured or Trampled?

Credit: Paul Bloom

Today’s front-page headline in my New Haven Register announced: “Fewer suicides, but younger victims.”

The write-up continues:

While the number of youths in Connecticut who die by suicide has declined since 2007, the average age of the children who kill themselves has decreased from 17 to just over 14.

The statistics are alarming: More girls than boys, death by hanging much more common than by gunshot.

At a school meeting after a 14-year-old girl had taken her life, a mother asked, “What are you doing for the mental health of our students?”

Since I work worldwide in the areas of sanity and stress, I know the incredible importance of “mental health.” The big questions loom large:

Who am I, really? What does it mean for me to be healthy?
What am I here on this earth for? What is the meaning of my life?
How can I care for myself? for others?

In our rushed day-to-day living, we so often ignore or brush aside these awarenesses. That lack affects us all, but it impacts our young people especially deeply.

My friend Jane knows that I work with people, young and old, who are facing these life and death challenges. She invited me to a workshop for teachers on “Developing Student Leadership” sponsored by The Center for Spiritual and Ethical Education at the Masters School in Dobbs Ferry, New York. She thought that I could learn from them, and that I might be of service to them. She was right.

It heartened me to meet teachers from throughout the U.S. who are intently engaged in finding practical ways to develop clarity and compassion, not only with their students but also with their fellow teachers. They seek to help students become caring community leaders in everyday ways rather than just padding their college resumes with elected positions.

I was especially moved when I heard 17-year-old Sofia relate her “awareness-to-action” story. She knew that her school was wise enough to provide a safe place, a “sanctuary,” for students who are dealing with drug or alcohol problems. When several of her classmates were caught plagiarizing, Sofia realized that these three were not the only ones with that problem, since the need for good grades to get into the right colleges was so intense. She thought, “Why not establish a sanctuary for ‘cheaters’ and give them the help they need?” So she did.

Now that’s clear thinking + compassionate action.

As I walked out my door this morning, those dewy petals caught my eye. And the mother’s question pierced me: What are we doing…?.

Our young people, so like these petals, so fresh, so vulnerable. I remember my school days, how easily I could trample and be trampled. And how readily I grew when someone really saw me and nurtured me.

Sofia didn’t ignore a problem; she noticed. She didn’t trample or condemn the “wrong-doers” — she took action.

What can I do today to be like Sofia: really see, and then treasure, a younger one? It matters.

If you — or someone you know — need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for theNational Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.