Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for young people in the United States. Yet most schools are unsure of how to react when a suicide happens in their community.
“Unlike a fire drill, responding to the suicide of a student is not something schools can practice for,” explains Peggy West of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) at EDC. They can, however, be prepared to help their crisis response team with guidance about what to do when and if such a tragic death occurs.
Since suicides do not typically take place on school grounds, school staff may be uncertain about the school’s responsibilities when a student dies as a result of a suicide. “Schools don’t want to do the wrong thing, so they may do nothing,” explains West. “But doing nothing is doing something.”
To help schools better respond, EDC and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention collaborated to create the free online resource After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools. The toolkit materials draw on the recommendations of leading experts and what is currently known about providing schools with effective guidance, information, and tools.
“What schools said they needed most was something they could put their hands on immediately,” says West. “The toolkit is not meant to be a comprehensive curriculum or a stand-alone resource. It is intended to be used to get schools started on the right foot.”
The toolkit offers assistance in such areas as memorializing a student who has died, helping students cope, working with the community (including the media), and monitoring social media sites, such as Facebook, to identify other students who may be at risk. Schools are urged to emphasize the connection between suicide and underlying issues such as depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, and to let students know that help is available for those struggling with mental health issues.
Originally published on October 26, 2011