West Islip Public Schools

Substance Abuse

Health and Nutrition

Coping with Stress

Coping With Stress


 At least 75% of all youth who commit suicide exhibit a series of common behaviors which, if understood, become important clues for us to notice.  Not all of the warning signals are evident in each case, nor does a single person receive all of the clues.  For this reason, it is important that we all develop a sensitivity to warning signals and trust our instincts enough to report the "gut feeling" to others who also may have recognized the clues. 


change in school work or attendance

withdrawal from people

  insomnia or oversleeping

giving away possessions 

feeling of helplessness, anxiety, guilt

change from depression to lightheartedness 

an event that can cause deep depression or worthlessness (often a loss)

recovering from severe depression 

  occurrence of suicidal threats

preoccupation with talking about suicide

a previous suicide attempt 

sudden beginning of self-destructive acts (like drinking, drugs, etc.)

disruptive/violent in dealing with others 

irrational behavior, signs of severe mental illness

rapid weight gain or loss

your "gut feeling"

  In addition to the general warning signals which we might use to identify a person who is thinking of self-destruction, there are more specific signals which might indicate that the person is beyond the thinking stage and actually planning for death.


   giving away possessions

unexpected elation

  development of a specific plan


suddenly not talking about suicide anymore

breaking off completely from important relationships

         Few of us can ignore a plea for help.  
Once we recognize that a student may have suicidal tendencies, 
there are some important steps which can be taken as effective intervention in a potentially dangerous situation:   

STEP 1:   LISTEN.   A person in mental crisis needs someone who will listen to what he or she is saying.  Every effort should be made to understand the problems behind the statements. 

STEP 2:   EVALUATE the seriousness of the youngster's suicidal thoughts and feelings.  If the child has made specific plans for suicide, the danger is greater than when his/her thinking is indefinite. 

STEP 3:   EVALUATE the intensity of the emotional disturbance.  It's possible that the youngster is extremely upset but not suicidal.  If a depressed person becomes agitated and moves around restlessly, it may be cause for alarm. 

STEP 4:   TAKE SERIOUSLY every feeling and complaint the student expresses.  Do not dismiss or minimize what the child is saying.  In some cases a child may minimize his/her difficulty, but beneath an apparent calm may be profoundly distressed feelings. 

STEP 5:   DON'T BE AFRAID TO ASK DIRECTLY if the child is thinking of suicide.  Experience shows that harm is rarely done by inquiring directly; as a matter of fact, the student frequently is glad to have the opportunity to open up and discuss suicidal feelings.

  STEP 6:   DON'T BE MISLED by a youngster's assertions that he or she is past the emotional crisis.  Often a child will feel relieved after talking about suicide, but the same thinking may recur later.  Follow-up is crucial. 

STEP 7:   BE AFFIRMATIVE, BUT SUPPORTIVE.  Strong, stable guideposts are essential in the life of a distressed child.  Provide emotional strength by giving the impression that you know what you are doing, and that everything possible will be done to assist the young person.

  STEP 8:   EVALUATE AVAILABLE RESOURCES.  The student may have inner resources--including mechanisms for rationalization and intellectualization--which can be strengthened and supported, plus other resources such as relatives and friends who can be contacted.  If these are absent, the problem is more serious. 

STEP 9:   ACT SPECIFICALLY.  Do something tangible; give the youngster something definite to hang onto, such as arranging to see him/her later or putting them in contact with another helping person.   

STEP 10:   OBTAIN APPROPRIATE ASSISTANCE. Don't try to handle the problem alone.  Seek the advice of school support staff, mental health professionals or other knowledgeable persons. 

*Adapted from a listing by Dr. Calvin Frederick, National Institute of Mental Health, which appears in Trends in Mental Health:  Self-Destructive Behavior Among Younger Age Groups, Dept. of Health, Education and Welfare Publication No. (ADM) 76-365.

Internet Resources

Children and Grief
From the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, information helping a child cope with grief. 

Helping Children Cope with Tragedy
"How do Children Grieve", and "The Value of the Ritual" are just a few parts of this informative sections of the National PTA's website.

Confused, sad, mad, glad? Check out this section to learn dealing with bullies, anger, self-esteem, friends and more!

Resources for Dealing with Tragedy
The American Library Association website offers recommended reading on separation and loss,  as well as many valuable links for other materials to aid in coping with the tragedy for both children and adults.

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