Students in Mississauga, Canada. Student Coping Strategies Workshop.
Above are the student leaders with whom I practiced prior taking this workshop online with this group of high school students in Mississauga, Canada. They helped me work through the kinks and test the tools.
25 participants in this one. My largest was in-person group of 100.
All presentations start with the prevention lifeline, crisis text line, and a trigger warning that you can leave or take a break. One student is tasked with getting together the resources for that school and the immediate area. So one of the leaders of the group got the counselor’s names and the local resources and listed those in the chat and later they got that list of resources again as follow-up.
The workshop starts with the story of my son, his descent into drug use due to depression, and then his eventual drug-related death by suicide. I follow that with stigma-related reactions and how I managed the most devastating loss of my life including the coping strategies I used to manage the pain.
I usually run some kind of poll at this point. The question this time was, “How do you feel about returning to school in the fall?”
- A. Anxious and Excited
- B. Just Anxious
- C. Just Excited
- D. Dreading it
75% chose Anxious and Excited, the rest of the 25% chose just anxious and dreading it divided equally. Given that we know teens struggle with transitions we should be recognizing this and helping them develop the coping skills to be able to acclimate to transitions and understand that they are often uncomfortable.
The next exercise involves the group suggesting unhealthy coping strategies and then healthy ones. I’d have to say that of all the groups with whom I’ve worked, this group had the list of the best ideas.
We go to a whiteboard and it’s split.
Unhealthy Coping | Healthy Coping
They share the ideas in chat or our loud. I put them in the categories. If one is misplaced, then I just ask motivational style interviewing until they decide to move it. They will often say that listening to music, exercising, being outside or calling a friend are some healthy strategies. And they identify that self-harm, deflecting emotions on family members, self-criticism, and so on are not healthy.
Next, we go to an online board and they use a post-it note to anonymously express an issue they’ve been dealing with.
Below is the board this group of 25 students created. They were honest and vulnerable struggles.
Then once they’ve listed their struggles, I ask them if they are aware their peers were trying to cope with many of the same issues as them. They never are. It’s one thing to say, “You are not alone.”
It’s another for people to do an experiential exercise where they feel and understand they aren’t alone.
I end the session by asking them to think about the coping skills they’d like to use in their toolbox and ask them to think of two trusted adults they’d talk to if they were struggling with any kind of problem.
I learn something every time.
I can also share articles that are relevant to discussions with teenagers. Or take questions in the chat.
Self Harm Safety Box
Concrete strategies that helped me work through my teen depression
Letter from Depression
Teens and Young Adults: How to help your friend with depression?
What to say to someone who tells you they are cutting?
Should I tell someone my friend is thinking of suicide?
How to tell someone I want to kill myself
When Ghosting is a Sign of Suicide
All eating disorder posts