Suicide can be a difficult subject for many adults, let alone teens—but a group of courageous young people at Chabad of Sarasota were more than up to the challenge! They showed their remarkable commitment to peer support by organizing and attending a LivingWorks safeTALK training, enabling them to learn life-saving skills. They took their cue from Chabad of Sarasota’s CTeen director Ella Steinmetz, who is working to get everyone—young and old—to talk openly and directly about suicide and how they can help prevent it.
Leading up to last year’s World Suicide Prevention Day on September 10, there were several LivingWorks safeTALK sessions going on at the Chabad for a variety of age groups and roles in the community. We chatted with these teen leaders to see how they were feeling before the teen-only LivingWorks safeTALK training and then followed up after to see how things turned out.
BEFORE TRAINING (September 5)
LivingWorks: How are you all feeling before this weekend’s training?
Hailey, grade 12: I’m kind of nervous, it’s a touchy subject especially to talk about with teens because there’s such a stigma around it. We see these people every day and we don’t really talk to them about the things that are going to be talked about in this workshop, so obviously it’s a little bit nerve-wracking. But I’m really just looking forward to it, looking forward to being able to do it.
Tayla, grade 12: I’m excited for it just because of how long we’ve been waiting for it to happen and it’s finally together and happening this weekend. Right now, my knowledge of suicide prevention is very limited so that’s why I feel like it would be beneficial for me because I don’t know anything about the subject or how to approach someone who is suicidal.
Mia, grade 10: Coming up to it, like Hailey said, it’s pretty nerve-wracking because it’s very much a touchy subject with people that you don’t have very strong relationships with. But I’m also very excited because I think it’s something that is very important but isn’t discussed enough, among teens especially, and I’d like to get the message out there.
LW: What do you learn at school about suicide?
Hailey, grade 12: We don’t really learn about suicide particularly, we just learn about mental health and they don’t really go deep into mental health or any kind of prevention of sicknesses or illnesses that could come about. I think the furthest we’ve gone is how to handle stress at school. They tell us to do yoga, they tell us to get enough sleep, but that’s about it. We’re not really exposed to it at school.
Tayla, grade 12: At my school, I don’t think I’ve ever had any teacher talk about suicide in any way, even when people have died from suicide or other ways at my school. It’s almost like the teachers are told not to talk about it, so it’s not brought up in any of the courses or anything. Additionally I’m involved in a club in my school that had the branch to do with mental health and when we tried to do anything suicide-prevention related, we’ve been told no. They basically have said that’s to do with the guidance counselors and that’s as far as it should go.
LW: Do you discuss suicide with your friends?
Hailey, grade 12: Of course. I hate to say it but teen suicide is more common than you think. I have a friend who passed away when I was a freshman in high school from suicide and that was sort of what got the topic going for my friends and I because we had never been exposed to that before. It’s information that you might not think about until it happens to your community. Every time you hear about it happening you just kind of talk about it for a day or so and then it just becomes taboo again.
AFTER TRAINING (September 9)
LW: How did the training go?
Hailey, grade 12: I was really surprised at how engaged people were. I know especially teenagers—people my age—in school we kind of just sit back, we just kind of watch, but people were really answering questions, asking questions, participating in activities and it was really cool to see. I think it’s something we can relate to and we all want to get better at, so it was really interesting to see that.
Dillon, grade 10 (filling in for his older sister Tayla, who had a last-minute schedule change): It was really interesting. I didn’t really know too much about it. My sister just kind of told me what it was and that I was going, so I didn’t really know what I was walking into. During it I started to realize that it was more serious and that I was going to gain something from it.
Mia, grade 10: It was awesome. The trainer who was running the course was very interactive with everybody in it—she was very upbeat and charismatic which really helped as it is a very heavy topic. So I think the way that she was talking to us and relating it to us and kind of catering it to the fact that it was a workshop with teenagers really helped calm the mood of the room a little bit. Once it started I wasn’t as nervous because it started going over very smoothly. So it was very just relaxing, just kind of like, “I just want to learn the information.”
LW: What is the biggest thing you took away from the training?
Hailey, grade 12: I think that the biggest thing personally that I took away was explicitly using the word “suicide” when you ask someone about what’s going on. I never thought about it like that before, usually you dance around the topic, but really just like explicitly asking someone if they’re considering suicide.
Dillon, grade 10: Definitely life skills that hopefully I won’t have to use, but that I may have to at some point.
Mia, grade 10: The biggest lesson I think I’ll take away is that the trainer said “don’t promise not to tell anybody” because it may be very important if they are having suicidal ideation—tell somebody. So don’t promise not to tell anybody because you’re going to be losing their trust and it may put them in a worse place than they were before, so that’s probably the biggest thing that I’ll be taking away.
We’re delighted to see the skills these LivingWorks safeTALK participants learned, and we wish them the very best as they work to keep their friends, classmates, and family members safe from suicide. Suicide remains a subject that is missed, dismissed, or avoided in many schools—but we’re encouraged by the teens at Chabad of Sarasota and other organizations that are working to open up the conversation and save lives.
Thank you for your courage and dedication! For trainers looking for more information on working with teens on suicide awareness and prevention, please contact [email protected] as safety is a top consideration when presenting programs such as LivingWorks safeTALK to youth.
Upon hearing about LivingWorks safeTALK, Jack Miller of Gelt Charitable Foundation generously stepped up and offered to fund these trainings for any Jewish organization in the United States. For more information, please contact Leigh Ioffe at 415-999-3186 or Ella Steinmetz at 941-928-2220.
Interested in getting training for your organization during World Suicide Prevention Month in September or any time of the year? Information on how we can work with you here.
Photos courtesy of Chabad of Sarasota