Last week I used my spot in our fortnightly newsletter to speak about my concerns regarding the levels of hurt felt by many of our young people across New Zealand, a hurt that, in its most extreme cases, can lead to suicide. It was not a comfortable experience writing that article, nor was it one that I felt in any way trained to give advice on. I ran it past three of my colleagues before I sent it. It was more a case of reaching a point where I am so confused about how we address this hurt and what we do about it. Like most of us there is a strong desire to be part of a solution but also a fear that in naively trying to help we can often just make the whole problem worse.
I have reprinted that newsletter post below after reading the transcript of a very honest address that Paul Veric, the Principal of New Plymouth Boys High gave to his boys recently. I read his address last night and so much resonated, he has articulated what so many of us feel but he has said so much better than most of us could. He addressed the feeling of powerlessness and the loss of sleep that the issue of youth suicide makes so many of us feel and experience. He also spoke beautifully about the power of love, what I would call the generous heart that can help in times of distress.
Veric talked about the confusion we feel when living in such a paradise that the reality is that there are so many that feel despair and hurt. He talks about seizing the day, enjoying the day, showing love and supporting those around us who are going through a rough patch. He talks about loving enough to care, loving enough to support and loving enough to watch out for each-other.
Below is my article from last week. It is nowhere near as well written or empathetic as Verics, I am posting it merely to add my voice to the national debate that is taking place around the need to face this issue and work together to plan a way forward. No answers, just a desire to be part of a solution.
I am sure that you, like all of us here at the college, read with concern recent reports in the media about the high level of anxiety issues evident amongst our teenagers nationally.
In the most extreme cases this can lead to a young person taking their own life.
At times it seems difficult to understand why, when we live in such a wonderful country that a young person can be in such deep despair but the statistics paint an unavoidable and disturbing picture. The reality is that many of our teenagers today are hurting and the situation is certainly not improving.
You will also realise that as a nation this is something of a taboo subject and over the years we have been advised not to discuss sensitive matters such as youth suicide. The reason behind this stance is a sound one, but sadly it does not seem to be reducing the issue and this is why there is currently an intense national debate on how we, as a nation, are going to work together to stop this hurting.
This is why we, as a school, have addressed the concept of hauora and have worked with our amazing learners in areas such a mindfulness, bullying and cyber safety. We hope you feel that we are a school that cares…because we do.
One article I read recently has hit home to me and it is the essence of that article that I want to share.
I have a mixed attitude towards Mike King. There are many things that he says that I agree with but I can’t say that I am always totally supportive of his approach on a number of matters, however his summary of what lies behind the pain that many of our young people feel I found to be quite enlightening.
He claims that there are three reasons that cause intense despair amongst our young people.
The first was because they were being hurt by others. Bullying, negative comments on social media, feeling left out etc. these all hurt and this is the aspect that we tend to focus on and worry most about. The reality is that it is the one that we can least control. We can work towards building up an individual’s resilience and self esteem and we can continue to educate all of our learners about appropriate and safe behaviour but we can’t always control the interactions between people.
This is only one of the reasons though, the other two we can all play a part in minimising the effects of.
The second reason mentioned by King was that a young person can feel that they have let others down, that they have failed and that they are a disappointment to those around them. This is an area that we can all work to minimise the effect of. We can all surround our young people with care. We can’t tell them enough how important they are, how special they are and how wonderful they are. We can all work to ensure that our children feel that they are fantastic just the way they are. We can have an effect on this second reason.
The third reason presented in the article was that young people are often in despair because they want to cause hurt to others and feel the guilt associated with acts of unkindness. We can all play our part here as well by modelling the correct way to interact with others. It is also my belief that if we ensure that each child feels well and loved then their desire to hurt others will dissipate.
So what struck me was of the three reasons given we, as adults, can affect two but we all seem to focus on the one that we have less control over. It certainly has made me think.
Today 20 of our learners hosted 55 members of Probus to share their learning and show them the school. They all conducted themselves with pride and dignity. They were caring, articulate and confident. They were fantastic and I felt so proud to be associated with them. They displayed a maturity well beyond their years.
Our children have such amazing potential and are going to do so well. There is so much about this generation that is unbelievably positive we just have to ensure that we are all aware of what causes them anxiety and help them to have the strength to cope with the issues they will face from time to time as they develop into the wonderful adults that they will become.