September is known as National Suicide Prevention Month. This topic hits home for the many students who experience overwhelming distress due to both undiagnosed and diagnosed mental health problems.
Mental health issues carry a great degree of stigma in society, however discussion of issues stemming from them, such as suicide and self-harm, are vitally important. One example is the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance surveys, sent to schools across the nation regarding dangerous behaviors. The YRBSS concluded that about 1/3rd of high school students nationwide had felt so sad or hopeless almost every day for 2 or more consecutive weeks, that they stopped doing healthy, everyday activities. Depression is the leading cause of suicide, and is therefore a vital warning sign for recognizing at-risk individuals.
So what can one do? Since suffering is silent, it is crucial that the words of struggling teens are heard and understood. The method proven to stop suicide, and the simplicity of its use–validation.
Karyn Hall, PhD in Psychology, explains what validation is and how its practice is effective in providing students with a reason to live. “Validation,” she says, “is the recognition and acceptance of another person’s internal experience.”
This means understanding that whatever a person is feeling is real, and not trying to challenge its existence. Validation can be used even though one might not agree or support what another is saying. It is the act of being attentive and genuinely listening that gives validation its powerful outcome. According to a presentation on validation by David Coughlin, people with friends who suffer from depression should “[j]ust shut up and listen, guide the conversation with questions. Your purpose is to get the story out, not to judge or fix it”.
What have you been doing wrong? We tend to respond to suicidal admissions abusively, which Hall defines as “invalidation, in which your own or another person’s emotion experiences are rejected ignored, or judged.” This makes the individual feel trapped and amplifies the distress they feel.
In the simplest terms, invalidation is a leading cause to suicide whereas validation is successful in saving lives. For a quick understanding of validating and invalidating phrases this is a quick overview:
Everyone should rethink how they approach suicidal students by being aware of the power in words. Saving a life is not “magic”; it is something everyone can do by following a formula of courage, validation, and caring to give those struggling a reason to hang on.