For What's Ahead Blog

The Importance of Learning How to "ACT" to Prevent Teen Suicide

Posted by Martha Metzler, Upper School Counselor on Mar 11, 2019 11:51:17 AM

It’s not a subject we like to think about, but as a parent, it might be the most important subject to learn about. Parent, author, and former Major League Baseball player John Trautwein spoke with our school community about understanding teen mental health resilience and suicide prevention and how we can support our kids. So we want to share this very important message with all parents.

John TMr. Trautwein spoke about the great loss he and his family endured - the suicide of his 15-year-old son, Will - in 2010 and how it inspired him to create the Will to Live Foundation and to speak nationally about teen mental health and suicide prevention.

Before Will’s death, Mr. Trautwein said he didn’t even know what depression was. “Nobody ever talks about it,” he said. “Nobody ever talks about mental illness. We thought Will was living a perfect life until he died.”

People are afraid to talk about depression, a treatable illness, because it has the word “mental” in front of it. “It’s treatable and beatable,” Mr. Trautwein said.

In order to treat it, however, people need to talk about it. Teenagers could tell a parent or teacher that, despite all the blessings they have, they are incredibly sad, or overwhelmed, or stressed. But it’s much more likely that a teenager would talk to his or her friends, who truly understand what life is like for a high school student right now.

“It’s harder for you now,” he told the audience. “I played major league baseball and I wouldn’t make Forsyth Country Day School’s team today. You know why? Because I was a dork when I was a kid. I grew out of it, but I didn’t start early enough.”

Mr. Trautwein discussed how many things are harder for today’s teens, which is something he thinks most adults don’t understand. “I’m a salesman and I just told Will, ‘Isn’t this great’?”

IMG-4193When Mr. Trautwein was in high school, he didn’t have AP classes. He didn’t play travel baseball - he had the luxury of playing three sports for fun and still ate dinner with his family every night. Today’s kids are put under so much pressure - take the APs, get straight As, get into the right college, play on travel teams, and by the way: don’t mess up, because if you do, there will be a permanent record of it thanks to cell phones and the omnipresence of social media.

The best supporters you have, the people who will be your Life Teammates, you probably already know, Mr. Trautwein said. “Think of five people right now who’d be your bridesmaids, or five people who’d be your groomsmen at your wedding. They’re probably here in this room. Do they know?”

Those people are the people who will always be there for you, though the good things and the very worst. “When I gave Will’s eulogy at his funeral - something no parent should ever have to do - I looked out in the crowd and saw my Life Teammates.” Friends came from thousands of miles away - not because he called them and asked them to come - but because they cared.

Saying ‘Love ya, man,’ to the people you care about is one of the most important things you can do. Another thing is to listen when a friend wants to talk about their feelings. Mr. Trautwein used the acronym ACT for - Acknowledge, Care, and Tell.

Teenagers are far more likely to tell their friends how they’re feeling, because they’re more likely to understand. Acknowledge what they’re feeling, he said. Let your friend know you hear them. Tell them you care about how they feel. “Tell them ‘Love ya, man’,” Trautwein said. Then tell a trusted adult so that your friend can get the help he or she needs.

The Will to Live Foundation, which the Trautweins started after Will died, has raised more than $1 million to date through student-led efforts to raise awareness about teen mental health and suicide prevention.

We hope learning about John’s important message has been helpful to you. If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to Megan Martin-Wall, Jenifer Gornik, or Martha Metzler.

If you want to learn more about a school that cares about each and every child, contact us today at 336.945.5151 or

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