Seeing The Signals
by Joy Jones
Sonya was in my creative writing class
and had the disdainful attitude typical of teenagers.
She was not a serious behavior problem, but she
certainly didnít impress me as a model student. Sonya
was definitely in that stage of life where she regarded
most adults as a nuisance. In my class, she wrote a
story about a teenage girl who attempts suicide. I
regarded it as typical adolescent angst and not as a
desperate plea, but my principal had made it very clear
that ANY indication that a child was considering suicide
was to be taken seriously. So I referred Sonya to the
As it turned out - just as I thought - she wasnít
suicidal, but her home life was no Cosby Show scenario.
Sonya was living with her adult big sister. Her parents
had divorced and both mom and dad were busy with their
new partners - and the new babies that were the result.
Sonyaís story was a way to express some of the anger and
frustration that she was feeling; quite a creative way
to sort out the messy situations of her life.
Learning the details of the story behind the story made
me wonder - how do you tell if there really is a
problem? What are the warning signs that a student is
depressed or suicidal?
Mental health professionals identify the following as
possible indicators. For depression:
- sadness, anxiety
- a change in eating habits that leads to a marked
weight gain or loss
- sleeping in class
- withdrawal from friends
- rebellious behavior, sudden drop in grades, cutting
- the start or increase of drinking and drugging
- preoccupation with death and dying
- overly sensitive to rejection
- poor thinking or concentration
- reduced ability to function in activities
- loss of interest in school work, extracurricular
For suicide -
- talking about killing oneís self
- talking as if no one cares
- preparing for the end by giving away belongings,
writing goodbye letters.
As a result of the intervention, I discovered that Sonya
truly enjoyed writing and had aspirations of becoming a
writer. Her short story won a prize and her attitude
improved. Well, it didnít really improve, but she
scowled a little less frequently. She was still a
teenager, after all.
I am glad, through my principalís insistence, that I
didnít let Sonyaís signal go unacknowledged. Take a look
at your class. Is there a student sending you a message?