Academic journal article Journal of Thought

English Learners and the Risks of Suicide

Academic journal article Journal of Thought

English Learners and the Risks of Suicide

Article excerpt


In reviewing the research on adolescent and young adult suicide, a distinctive set of characteristics that describe suicidal ideation and behaviors coincides with literature about the experiences of English Learners (ELs). We found, however, no research that examines the relationship specifically between the characteristics of suicidal adolescents and ELs' responses to these experiences. Existing research related to ELs in the affective dimension mainly supports the effects of discrimination and/or depression (Cristini, Scacchi, Perkins, Santinello, & Vieno, 2011; Huynh & Fuligni, 2010; Patel, Tabb, Strambler, & Eltareb, 2014; World Health Organization [WHO], 2014). Connecting the two areas of research may enable a proactive stance in making implications for recognizing language learners who may be at risk of suicide or other suicide-related behaviors such as eating disorders, self-cutting, depression, reckless driving, and sexual promiscuity, among others (Kann et al., 2014).

Elevated risk factors for suicide and other self-destructive behaviors include students who are "viewed as different from their peers" and students who are "often subject to exclusion, harassment and discrimination" (Society for the Prevention of Suicide [SPTS], 2015, Slide 9), two descriptions that align with the experiences that many ELs endure. At issue is students' emotional health and safety, the impact of schooling, and the negative interactions that occur at school (Rishel, 2007). In order to educate diverse student populations, it is imperative that public scholarship include discussions on ELs and how the learning environment may influence their susceptibility towards suicidal activity, because globally, suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 15-29 (WHO, 2014, p. 22).

Especially important for educators and school personnel who experienced the death of a student by suicide, the gripping aftermath of reflecting on what could have or should have been done often weighs heavily in their minds and hearts. We can sigh at the disheartening and unnecessary loss of lives, yet we must also address the circumstances surrounding their ultimate decision to die. We have a choice to begin exploring the connections between the characteristics of ELs who experience the roughness of immersion, as well as schooling that fails to meet their needs, and the similarities to young people who die by suicide, or we can ignore it now and wait until statistics point it out for us in the years to come. The authors broach the urgency of this topic now in order to provide the awareness of possibilities of which most are unaware.


Although in an ideal world all schools are concerned with both the academic and affective aspects of their learners, contemporary literature regarding ELs primarily focuses on the language acquisition and other academics (e.g., Haager, 2007; Meyer, 2000; Short, Fidelman, & Louguit, 2012), content-specific instruction (e.g., Chval & Chavez, 2011/2012; Gaskins, 2015; Li, 2012; Nutta, Bautista, & Butler, 2011; Thornton & Cruz, 2013), as well as assessment (e.g., Hakuta, 20014; Lenski, EhlersZalava, Daniel, & Sun-Irminger, 2006). While resources available for teaching and learning are plentiful and varied for all content areas and grade levels, a very important consideration that has commonly been overlooked because of the current focus on the standardization of learning is the relationship of the learner's socio-emotional needs to academic success (Kayi-Aydar, 2015).

Struggles of ELs

It is important to note that the experiences and needs of ELs vary significantly. For example, some learners come to school as immigrants, while others are born in an English-speaking country (Batalova, Fix, & Murray, 2007); some have been in English-speaking educational settings their whole life, or at least for several years, while others may have recently arrived from their home country. …

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