Written by: R. J. Shuman, Suicide Prevention Educator, HelpLine
Dear student sitting in the back of the class,
I saw you sitting back there. You showed up for all three days. Perhaps you don’t think I noticed you, but I did. I looked at you many times and even talked directly to you, short of calling you out by name. My guess is you didn’t notice my efforts, as you never seemed to look up, almost as if outright refusing to make eye contact with me.
There must have been a spot on the floor or on your desk just inches away from your face that was more interesting than me. Maybe it was just more comforting to stay quiet and look at anything but me. It gave you power. A wall. A barrier.
It was almost as if you were afraid in just one moment, with one look, no matter how fleeting, I would be able to see right through you. Your secret would be out. Your secret that I had been talking about for three days. You know I had been talking about you the whole time. How every sign of depression or suicide was painfully familiar to you. I had described many examples that were so relatable, and I obviously must have been talking about you.
Well, you’re right. I was. Yet, what you don’t see is it wasn’t just you I was talking to or talking about. There were others. In the other classes. In other schools.
I see you every day. Your avoidance of eye contact, quiet demeanor, defeated and uncomfortable body language and lack of connection (except for an awkward forced smile you thought would throw me off your scent) did not make you or your struggle invisible to me. Actually, those things you thought would protect you, told me so much about you.
I knew many things about you long before I noticed on your depression screening you indicated that “nothing was fun for you and you just weren’t interested in anything.” I knew it well before you bravely circled that you “feel you can’t do anything well or that you are not as good-looking or as smart as most other people.” By the way, now that we aren’t in the classroom, I can tell you that is complete bullshit, not true. At all.
Somehow, I already knew you felt those things, but admittedly my heart sank when I also saw you “think seriously about killing yourself.” It wasn’t totally unexpected, but it did put a momentary lump in my throat. It always does. Every time. Every one of you.
Again, you didn’t think you were the only one did you? There is always one of you (often more) in every class, every school, every day. I usually know long before you honestly and bravely admit it on paper. Your action and words (usually the lack of them) give you away every time. You see, we can tell our own. I’ve been there. I am you.
In my mind, I had hoped you would look at me, and with just my eyes, I could communicate some sort of secret code to let you know I understood and I’m “in the club.” Somehow, this would reassure you that life is going to be OK and things will get better, but you never looked at me.
So although you tried your hardest to disappear before my eyes and pretend to not listen, I hope you did hear me when I said, “You are not alone,” “You can get help,” “There are people who get you,” and “It’s OK to need help and it’s OK to ask for help.”
It takes courage to ask for help. Real courage. It is hard. It is probably one of the hardest things you will ever do, but it is worth the fight. You are worth the fight. It was worth it for me, and I know it will be for you. You and I both have a lot of amazing things left to do in this world. Just trust me on that.
Thanks for listening,