You probably know the song with the lyrics “People who need people are the luckiest people in the world…”. It’s memorable and easy to hum and Barbra Streisand’s version is the only version we probably need. This week those lyrics became more memorable and more meaningful in my line of work.
It was a back to school week after a relatively long spring break. With re-entry in school comes a period of adjustment, both for students and staff and the recognition that our students may have had a week off, but in a community that doesn’t have much, in terms of economics, many of our students may not have had a break from their daily lives and probably no vacations away, and for many their supports are those of us at school. So, it was time to get to work.
Part of the work as a school social worker is prevention and education and talking about difficult topics, such as depression, anxiety and suicide. No one wants to talk about that, but in the context of prevention, someone has to do it and make it real. I was wrapping up a couple of weeks, prior to vacation and then doing the last class which was scheduled for this past Monday. Essentially, my colleagues and I go into health classes and talk about what we do, how it works, and how to access help, for themselves or someone they care about, a friend or a family member. I enjoy meeting the students in a more intimate setting of a classroom and to take their emotional pulse and listen to their thoughts and questions. I told my youngest son, many years ago, that we have two ears to listen and one mouth to speak, so that listening is twice as important as hearing our own voice. It bears itself out, if you are patient and open to hearing what is being said, between words. Working with teenagers requires being up on the latest movies, Netflix shows and some books that are important to the kids. Recent weeks brought some education for me on a new Netflix show that was based on a book, the name of which is 13 Reasons Why. Essentially, it is about a high school senior who commits suicide but prior to her death she records 13 audio tapes which explain why she ended her life. It is focused on thirteen people who she came in contact with and how what might have been perceived as innocuous conflicts or interactions led to her belief that life was too hard. The tapes were sent to the people to listen to and it is seen through the voice of one of those thirteen. I was given the book to read, and I read it while on vacation. It allowed me to dialog about depression and suicide and listen to the students. Kids want to talk about their opinions and the show and the book. It was an easier entre’ into what they thought, and feel about the character because the conversation was not about them. It is powerful to listen to and what they revealed. It builds connections and bridges. I always put my name and where my office is on the board and directions to how to get to me. The way I wrap up the class is talking about the importance in school to identify someone who, on a really bad day, or on a really good day, who they can find and talk to. We discuss the need to connect with one another and that it may be a teacher, or counselor, or secretary but someone who they know will listen, not judge and help, just by being there. I aske the students to think about who it would be, but don’t require identifying the person aloud. There was a lot of positive energy in the room that day and we said our so longs and I headed back to my office.
When I got back, one of my colleagues said he had a girl in his office who had come to find me and insisted that she talk to me. He brought her to me and she looked familiar and in a school of 2,000 students, I couldn’t place her immediately. She was very emotional and her eyes were pleading and filled with tears. She told me that she had been one of the students in the class I had just left. We talked and she revealed that she suffered from depression and although she had gotten help a few years back and had done well, she was now in a really bad place and scared of what she was feeling. I evaluated her and we came up with a plan and after I determined that she was safe and able to leave the office, I asked her why now and why today, since she had felt this for quite a while. She turned to me and smiled…..”You asked us to think about who was our person and I decided in that moment that you were my person. I knew you would help me”. People who need people are the luckiest people in the world. I’m always questioning who’s luckier, her or me.
Have a good weekend. Listen to some good music.