Suicide: The Power of a Caring Response

 In Educational Leadership

Suicide – the intentional causing of one’s own death – has a profound impact on many lives.

Some statistics on suicide in Australia in 2017:

·     Suicide was the leading cause of death of Australians aged 15-44.

·     More than 3,100 Australians died by suicide

·     Of those 3,100, more than 2,300 (75%) were male

·     More than 65,000 Australians made a suicide attempt 

Suicide can affect anyone at any time.

I was first exposed to suicide when I was 9 years old. A family friend ended his life. I was too young to comprehend what had happened, but as I grew older, the significance became clear.

My next experience was at 15. A middle aged man jumped in front of the train in which I was a passenger. Emergency services quickly arrived at the scene and buses came to ferry passengers to the next train stop, but not before we were asked to look under the train for body parts.

There was very little discussion about what I had experienced, and I certainly had no counselling. I experienced nightmares, and it was close to a year before the image of the man’s face faded from my memory.

Eight years later, my older brother killed himself. No words can describe the pain when a sibling suicides. There was no time for grief, and, again, no immediate counselling – just a surreal energy that propelled me forward.

My brother’s suicide happened 32 years ago. Since then, a cousin has lost his wife, another cousin her son, and yet another cousin his sister-in-law. One friend lost her brother, another her sister, and a third her stepchild. All to suicide. The daughter of one of my principals ended her life and another principal, whose path I crossed twice, also took his own life.

News of suicide is gut wrenching. There’s a heaviness in knowing of the grief, the guilt and lack of answers that will follow. Suicide is an intentional act – when individuals choose to end their lives. Try as we might, we can never attribute blame to anyone else.

It’s an alarming reality.

Suicide touched my life again this week. 

My 15-year-old daughter was with some of her school peers, when a suicide took place in front of them.

School psychologists stepped in immediately. One-to-one support was provided for students and parents. Every family received a letter with reference to an incident; it respectfully provided no details.

There will not be a whole school program on suicide. Teachers will not be expected to talk with students about the incident. There will be support, though, for those students and parents who seek it. The leadership and key members of staff at the school will demonstrate care and professionalism, and avoid unnecessary overreaction. That is powerful.

Governments and other schools would do well to learn from the way my daughter’s school has responded to this tragedy. 

Teaching degrees do not include blanket qualifications to teach or counsel students – about suicide or any other serious life events. To assume they do is to show little or no regard for anyone. 

Copyright © Cheryl Lacey 2019

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