Suicide Awareness and Prevention — Maximizing Children’s Safety

  • A history of depression or other psychiatric conditions
  • Prior suicide attempts
  • Verbalizations of suicidality and/or a preoccupation with death
  • Expressions of hopelessness, feeling trapped, of being a burden to others
  • Mental health or developmental conditions and behaviors that increase impulsiveness and decrease judgment, such as ADHD and substance abuse
  • A family history of suicide
  • Having a friend or even being aware of a celebrity who committed suicide
  • Sudden mood changes, including an unexpected shift to an upbeat mood
  • Behavior changes, such as social withdrawal
  • Changes in appearance or hygiene practices
  • Recent deaths or other losses
  • A sudden drop in grades or academic engagement
  • An event or situation that represents a significant blow to self-esteem or a sense of belonging, or that involves public humiliation
  • A history of trauma, including bullying and sexual/physical/emotional abuse
  • Giving away possessions
  • LGBTQ and other gender non-conforming youth are at higher risk because of stigma, prejudice, discrimination, threats of violence, and other traumatic experiences
  • Minority youth are at higher risk due to the burdens of structural racism, intergenerational trauma, and chronic healthcare disparities
  • Accomplished, perfectionistic students can be at higher risk due to unrealistic and rigid standards and the fear of failure. These youngsters often excel at putting up a front and not letting on that anything is wrong. As noted by Gina Meyer, the mother of Stanford University soccer star Katie Meyer who took her own life on March 1st, “There is anxiety and there is stress to be perfect, to be the best, to be number one.”
  • Regularly circulate information to parents, teachers, and other district staff about warning signs and about groups that are particularly at risk (e.g., students with ADHD, trauma histories, depression, or substance abuse problems; gender non-conforming students; minority students). Even very young children can be in deep emotional pain and may want to die even though they do not understand the permanence of death.
  • Require professional development opportunities for teachers, coaches, counselors, etc. to help them build confidence and skill in talking to students about difficult topics in developmentally appropriate ways.
  • Circulate and post information about the school’s mental health services as well as community resources, including suicide hotlines and emergency department numbers.
  • Encourage parents to get professional help for students who are showing any of the warning signs of suicide.
  • Encourage parents and teachers to discuss the many forms of peer pressure and how to keep it in perspective. Negative peer pressure can cause students to engage in a variety of self-defeating behaviors such as cutting class, cheating, stealing, smoking, bullying, or using alcohol and drugs. Harnessing positive peer pressure, on the other hand, can help students thrive academically, accept school leadership roles, and meaningfully participate in their communities.
  • Ensure that school and community counselors work with at-risk students to develop a safety plan that includes the names and contact information for individuals to reach out to if they are feeling suicidal.
  • Offer a training workshop for parents about how to monitor their children’s online activity so that they can be aware of sites being frequented and whether there is any indication of online bullying.
  • Encourage staff and parents to ask students directly about the impact of break-ups, changes in social groups, failures of any kind, etc.
  • Validate and do not dismiss the feelings and reactions of students even as you offer other potential alternatives.
  • Boost opportunities for students to be outdoors and to engage in physical activity during the school day.
  • Encourage parents to stay consistent with administering their children’s medications, and to lock up medications, alcohol, and any weapons present in the house.
  • Use physical education classes to inform students about the brave revelations of mental health struggles by sports stars like Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka, and Michael Phelps.
  • Develop a sense of community about keeping children safe, adopting the “It takes a village” approach. There is nothing more dangerous than a teacher/counselor/parent and student dyad in which they are the only two people aware of and monitoring fluctuations in risk.
  • Studies show that one suicide can raise the risk of other suicides among children and teenagers who knew or identified with the person in the community. Develop a protocol to actively respond to such deaths on a school-wide basis.
  • An over-emphasis on grades or winning can put undue pressure on students; foster a school culture that puts academic and other achievements into proper perspective.

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Effective School Solutions

Effective School Solutions

Reinventing K-12 Mental Health Care. Effective School Solution partners with school districts to help develop K-12 whole-school mental health programs.