Using Self-Harm/Suicide Chatter to Manipulate Staff and Gain Attention
Older intermediate student (little support or misguided home support, with no positive role models).
Negative attention-seeking --> Will cause or exaggerate new or ongoing dramas (related to home or school), especially when youth care worker or counsellor supports slow down. (Absence of attention = increase in suicide chatter).
Seeks multiple breaks in reset daily to avoid certain class activities, or peer drama.
When given expectations to return to class, do a nonpreferred task, or when supports lessen, student will toss out casual comments such as "I just wanna die", or "I'm not going to live for a whole lot longer anyways", or "Life just sucks; it will always be bad". (This happens on a weekly basis roughly.)
Contradicts or dismisses all messages of hope, connections to life, and advice. (Makes it like a back-and-forth game or competition). Example.... Staff: "We don't know what the future holds, but we do know that things will not always be what they are now". Student: Smiling, "I know the future. It will definitely be not good. Things will never change."
It remains unknown whether or not the suicide talk is always genuine (when it is legitimate or manipulative), but there is no doubt there are substantial mental health concerns. Every instance is treated as if it were genuine. If little attention is given to the chatter, the student will come back later with bigger dramas or problems.
How do I discourage manipulation as a dependable/trustworthy adult to this student, without shutting them down? How and where should I draw that line?
Positive Outcomes from recent intervention:
After connecting with professionals within the school district, we have tried something that has actually worked very well for this situation...
Basically, what this student is searching for is connection, which the student knows she will get each time there is a new serious crisis. We've found that by offering moments of connection throughout the day or week, not associated with a given crisis, the student has not come forth with any new "dramas" or manipulations using serious mental health topics. We have given the student opportunities for positive connection such as jobs or tasks around the school, walks with supervisors during recess or lunch recess, and other random moments of brief casual connection (from multiple staff, not just one***).
We have only been implementing this for a few weeks, but we are already seeing a big improvement in the student's attitude towards school and in regards to mental health. If anything, the frequency and intensity of the behaviour has almost fizzled out.