Despair behind suicide note

10th March 2006 at 00:00
I could not work out what it was about. It was written in text language.

But when Stephanie read it aloud it made perfect sense.

It was a suicide note from Natalie in Year 8. Natalie craves the friendship of the older girls but they do not want anything to do with her. She is too odd. Unpredictable. Clumsy. Too desperate. But she needed their acceptance.

She became fixated on Amy. Natalie would hound her constantly on MSN, sending her pictures of herself. Amy was uncomfortable and kept her at a distance. Natalie could not cope with the rejection. She put pictures of Amy all over the community early in the morning, in school and out, questioning her morals and her apparent availability.

This was a mistake. The whole group of girls turned against her publicly.

Where once they had ignored her, now they confronted her. Hence the suicide note, passed to Stephanie between lessons.

We told her parents immediately. What else could we do? We could not just dismiss it out of hand. There is always the "What if.." question, no matter how unlikely it seems.

So there was a meeting and we found things out. You often do. The mother had suffered with depression last year. She had become violent and destructive. Natalie had watched the TV flying through the window, had seen the anger, heard the abuse. Then her older sister had left home to live with an aunt in Bolton. Poor Natalie. Suddenly it all started to make sense. Clearly the girl needed professional help.

But it was equally important to manage the older girls.

They were angry. They resented having to deal with this burden. And they were right. They should be talking about shoes and dances, not dealing with such raw distress. We spoke to the girls, we calmed them down.

They started with: "The girl is a nutter." They were hurt but eventually they showed more sympathy. "She said she drank bleach at Christmas." "She is always saying she has taken pills."

We kept repeating that we needed to support her. We appealed to their better nature and they grudgingly responded. Because they knew that it was not normal. But the girls have been unsettled by it. The staff are also worried. Did we handle it properly?

How quickly we can find ourselves out of our depth. I was not informed by anything other than instinct. But sometimes instinct is all we have got.

Ian Roe is a teacher in north Wales

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