Re: A permanent decision
golden cliff (c60clg1@CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU)
Thu, 6 Nov 1997 21:14:25 -0600
A natural part of growing is learning from one's mistakes, or those of
others. Often times the lesson in suicide is lost because the tragedy is
so overwhelming we are to numb to respond, to even try to understand or
make any sense of it, if indeed there is any sense to be found.
Long ago I worked in a residential facility for emmotionally disturbed
teenagers, the majority of which were suicidal at one time or another.
There are warning signs, but they can be very unique to each individual.
What did I learn from that experience? To be honest, not much. I spent
time at the end of some days just going home and staring at a blank
wall, trying to understand. I thought if I understood, I could better
help them. I finally decided I probably would never really understand and
eventually left the position.
I have had a former Scout commit suicide, he was age 22, most of the
active boys in the troop didn't know him.
I have also worked with 3 Scouts after their attempted suicides. One had
left Scouting and came back after the attempt, another transfered into my
troop after his 2nd attempt, the third was totally new to Scouting. All
had been through 1 month to 6 months of institutionalized psychiatric
I think it is important to remember that suicide isn't usually
committed/attempted by people who want to die, it's by people who no
longer can/want to cope with living. Death is by default.
As Scouters, we don't need to try to be psychologists or social workers,
we're not trained for that. What we are trained for is teaching
character, citizenship, and fitness. We teach values and provide a safe
haven where young people can learn to overcome challenge, gain skills, and
build confidence. We give sanctuary from stress and outside worries, by
providing fun and enjoyment in the outdoors. It is a time out, away from
the pressures of home or school. We can provide a feeling of family among
the members of the troop, a source of social stability. Most of all we
can let them know they are important to us, or we wouldn't be there in the
first place. Youth can be a very fragile condition, for some it's too
fragile. Whatever we can do to strengthen them as a person is vital.
Their youth experiences are a foundation they build on. We are in a
position to help them build a stronger foundation. A strong foundation is
the key to building anything of stability and endurance.
We don't need to be professionals in the field of mental health, we need
to be committed to providing a positive Scouting experience. After any
type of trauma there is a need for some form of therapy. Therapy can
come in very simple forms. I believe Scouting can be a tremendous form
of therapy for a boy hurting on the inside. That is where Scouting
affects boys most, on the inside.
It is important to remember that while Scouting is an important
social/educational program, we are not designed to be a source for
professional crisis intervention. We cannot approach the level of
training needed for that type of assistance. We can be watchful, keep
parents informed of any unusual behavior, and be ready to seek professional
assistance if needed. It is much easier to recognize a physical wound
than an emmotional one. We can only be vigilant.
In terms of Devon's situation, I think I would suggest a few things.
Talking to the boys is good, if you haven't already, find a berevement
counselor to come in and speak-with/listen-to the boys. In our troop,
even when we show the youth protection video "A Time to Tell", I have a
counselor on hand to lead a discussion with the boys. It helps them to
better understand, and gives them an opportunity to express their thoughts
Thoughts and feelings, it's important to distinguish betweent the two.
Often we concentrate on helping them to "understand". Accepting it
intellectually is the first and easiest step. The most difficult stage
is confronting the feelings. That's very hard. Even though a person
understands one thing, he may still feel something entirely different.
The conflict between those thoughts and feelings can be a very difficult
thing to overcome. That can sometimes take years to address.
More important than talking to the boys, listening is by far one of the
greatest things you can do. It lets them know you think what they say
and feel is important. Make it a point to create the rapport needed
where boys can feel comfortable talking about any issue. Bottled in
feelings are fuel for emmotional distress.
Talk doesn't always have to be serious. Sometimes just the fact that you
are interested enough to listen, to any subject, is what's important.
Just hanging out shooting the bull around a campfire can be great medicine.
I once had an older Explorer (19) ask if I wanted to go for coffee, I said
sure. We went to a 24 hour restaurant. I sensed he was troubled about
something. We talked for literally hours about every subject you can
imagine before he mentioned almost in passing that "by the way, my
parents are getting divorced". Sometimes things blurt out, sometimes they
seep out slowly.
A time of healing might start with just having fun again. Doing things
together as a group. Maintain and reinforce that special bond the boys
naturally feel for one another. High adventure teaches us that a group
can accomplish things together that few individuals could accomplish
alone. It is an extremely important lesson to understand. Though they
each have to come to terms with it within themselves, they may be able to
address it easier through the strength of a group they feel close to and
can share things with. It's important for them to know they have the
support of "their" group. Maybe they are doing this already, away from
adults, just on their own.
Keep giving them the best possible Scouting program. By doing so, you are
giving them so much more than you realize. In time they will find their
own way to cope. It does take time. And it's never easy.
I have found these things to be generally true.
Troubled boys "attempt" suicide, it's a cry for help. Their symptoms are
usually much more visible. They have problems that are obvious.
Those you'd never suspect are often the ones that actually "carry out"
suicide. Their symptoms are much more subtle and difficult to see, if not
invisible. Their pain is too deep, and they share it with no one. They
often seem to have everything in the world, then in an instant there is
I'm sorry I don't have any easy answers. I wish I did.
YIS, Cliff Golden
Scoutmaster Troop 33; DeKalb, Illinois
Three Fires Council BSA
Terry Howerton Sakima Group, Inc. SCOUTER Magazine Kansas City