I can remember the day as if it were yesterday.
I was in my second month in my new position as a school administrator. The day was no different than any other day. The foot traffic in and out of my office was consistent with days prior. Sometime in the middle of the afternoon, a sophomore girl visited me. I knew this girl fairly well, as she and her family were about to be our new neighbors. I could tell from the minute she walked in that she was quite distraught. I proceeded to quiz her about what was bothering her. She eventually told me that she was getting picked on, but would not give me any names or particular instances. I offered guidance and was empathetic to her emotions. She, however, would not tell me the who, what, and when the misbehavior towards her was occurring. I made a few phone calls and was able to connect her with our school counselor, yet I also advised her that my door was always open.
Fast-forward to later that evening. My family and I were about to spend the first night together in our new home. I was cooking supper when a knock came to our door. It was the sophomore student who I had visited with earlier that afternoon. She was crying. She told me that she was ready to give me names and specifics on the negative behavior she was facing. I asked her to come by my office first thing in the morning, and we would get it all straightened out for her. I was conflicted as to whether I should have allowed her to come in and talk. My education preparation was telling me I did the right thing, but my conscious was telling me differently. As she walked down the stairs of my deck I wondered if I had done the right thing. Questions filled my head. Should I have let her into my home? Was she going to hurt herself before tomorrow morning? I had these conversations with my wife, and I called the superintendent at the time to let him know what had happened and to receive his guidance.
I went to bed that night worried, but yet ready to help this girl in the morning. As I was getting ready for school the next day, I received the call that I will never forget. It was the school superintendent. He informed me that this particular student had taken her own life early that same morning. I started to cry, and I could not stop. I cried myself to school. I called my brother as I knew he could talk me through this. I got to school, shut my office door, and continued to cry. Questions began to fill my head. My heart was aching for her family and friends, and my mind was in a million different places. What could I have done to ensure this did not happen? Should I have let her in my house? Did I miss an opportunity to help a child?
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my actions. That occurrence has completely changed who I am as a person and as a school administrator. It is precisely the reason I blog. I can’t help but wonder how many students and opportunities we miss. How many students are fighting internal battles but look completely fine on the outside? How many students would like to reach out, but have no one to grab on to?
We need to realize that mental illnesses are diseases like any others. Just because they cannot always be seen does not mean that they don’t exist. Sometimes we get carried away with our daily routines and become fixated on taking care of ourselves. We forget about the people around us. I’m telling you today, and I’ve said it in previous blogs – take some time to help others. Sometimes it takes us helping others to ultimately help ourselves. Every one of us has a story. We are all fighting something inside us. What if you could be the one to alleviate that burden for someone else? What if you took the time to have a simple conversation with someone? Take the time to hear somebody else’s story, and you never know, it may help you write yours. You might also save a life.
I think back to the eleven years I’ve been in education, and I’m reminded of many instances in which a student was trying to reach out to me. I also know that many of these times I did not give the situation as much attention as I should have. I have no excuses for that. I can’t take those moments back. I now know that every child is worth my time. I also know that as educators, we make differences every day in the lives of our students, and we often don’t know we’re doing it. Every moment of every day we need to treat kids as if they are our own. We need to let students know that we care about them. We care about their schooling, we care about their dreams, and we will help create possibilities for them.
This blog has been written with permission from the family of Cassidy Andel. It has also been written in her memory with the hopes that it encourages people to make a difference in someone’s life. Please share this message with your colleagues, friends, and loved ones. Help bring awareness to mental illness. Don’t miss out on the opportunities to hear someone’s story.
If you or someone you know is suffering from mental illness and/or is contemplating suicide – please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).