According to reports from the Mental Health Association, the Center for Suicide Prevention, and the Center for Disease Control there are growing numbers of young people engaging in self-harm, self-mutilation and suicidal behaviors. This is particularly true in college and high school students, but there are growing numbers of children between ages five and twelve that are engaged in self-harming and suicidal ideation and activity. Most recent reports show an alarming rate for girls; presently more than three times as many are involved in suicidal incidences than a short eight years ago.
One of the major reasons is believed to be the increased time spent on social media and video games, where content is often detrimental, leading to depression. Older teens struggle with fear of not being able to get a good job when they graduate from high school, inability to find professional employment after graduating from college, and not wanting to advance into a world of adults whose values are not their own. These problems often cause a downward spiral of depressive thinking. Younger children see violence and death on TV, and, not understanding fully the finality of death and its effect on their family, seek it to relieve themselves of painful circumstances.
Whatever the reasons for the increasing number of students who self-harm, engage in suicidal thoughts, or kill themselves, the important thing is to stop it. The first step is to take the issue seriously. Largely, school systems have addressed this issue by introducing suicide prevention programs and Lauryn’s Law. However, it must be more than words. Words are not enough. Knowing and being alarmed by statistics are also not enough. Action is called for. We must do something!
School counselors have long known that Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) has proven to be the most effective psychological treatment for persons who self-harm and/or are suicidal or thinking about it. School counselors also know that they are not supposed to do any form of psychotherapy in the school setting. Because DBT Therapy requires two therapists, individual therapy, 24-hour phone contact when necessary, and numerous sessions, even were it allowed, even if counselors received necessary training, it would be impossible to offer DBT in its strict therapy form in the schools.
What is often overlooked is that within the theory of DBT there are ideas that school counselors should know and can use. Overlooked are the many exercises that Marsha Linehan, developer of the DBT model, created to help people decide to abandon negative thoughts and behaviors. These exercises involve students in radically acceptance of what is, thus changing that which is hurtful and harmful. There are also many exercises that help students rid themselves of emotional dysfunction, value self, develop healthy relationships and encourage creativity. Because DBT has been proven successful, all school counselors should have these exercises in their “bag of tricks” and, on the strength of evidence-based research, know how and when to use them. It is, I think, the duty of counseling programs and programs of continuing education for counselors to teach this material and to offer experiences in use of the DBT exercises that can be welcomed in a school setting.
The PsyCoun Institute be offering the first workshop on this topic on October, 27th