Suicide Prevention Programs in Schools

Instructor: Della McGuire

Della has been teaching secondary and adult education for over 20 years. She holds a BS in Sociology, MEd in Reading, and is ABD on the MComm in Storytelling.

In this lesson, we will cover some warning signs and intervention plans for suicide that will be helpful in creating a comprehensive suicide prevention program in school.

Talking about suicide

Suicide is one of the most preventable causes of death. It is especially tragic when a child completes suicide before even having a chance at life. In order to prevent suicide, we must first look at the language we use to talk about it.

Notice that in the previous statement, we have mindfully replaced the typical expression 'commits suicide' with the phrase 'completes suicide'. This is intentional because of the inherent judgment that comes with how we view the taking of one's own life. Someone may commit sins and crimes, so to use this word places undue guilt on someone suffering from suicidal thoughts.

There was a time when people would not talk about cancer, and it was referred to as 'the C word.' It was as though the word itself were contagious. Suicide is viewed the same way. Until we are able to talk openly about suicide, the way we now can about cancer, we may never be able to work toward prevention. An effective suicide prevention program in school will create a culture in which suicide can be discussed openly and without judgment.

What to look for

A suicidal person often gives signs. Unfortunately, these signs are not always recognized as such until it's too late. Someone may express suicidal ideation, or thoughts about suicide, by giving away possessions, expressing hopelessness and despair, or even by making an attempt. Sometimes you may notice a dramatic elevation in mood in someone who has been depressed. This sudden and out-of-character shift toward happiness may be a sign that they have chosen suicide as the answer and have made a plan.

Many times, a suicide attempt is called 'a cry for attention,' and usually, it is. Rather than deny people the attention, help and compassion they need to stay alive, it is critical to recognize that this may be the only way they know how to reach out. Someone who is so desperate that he or she would rather die than live another day without help may not know how to reach out. Let's be very clear about this… if someone is crying for help, refrain from judgment. HELP them.

The clearest way someone might give signs of considering suicide is by saying so. Many well-meaning people might ask the wrong question, like, 'you aren't thinking about doing something stupid, are you?' or 'are you thinking about hurting yourself?' The former is a problem because you are 1) calling the person stupid and 2) suggesting that you want the answer to be 'no,' because any other answer will make you uncomfortable. The second version is better, but someone who wants to die is already in unimaginable pain, and so they can answer 'no' honestly, because suicide is viewed as a way to stop hurting.

Because of this, it is important to ask directly if someone thinks they want to die. 'Are you thinking of suicide?' or 'do you want to kill yourself?' are both preferred ways to ask about suicidal ideation. This will not actually give the person an idea or make them want to. Instead, such clear language illustrates that this is not a topic you are afraid to discuss and they can be honest with you.

How can you help

Two important factors typically contribute to effective suicide prevention. The first is a support network of helpful and trusted people. Identifying these resources for someone in crisis helps to show that they are not alone. An effective suicide prevention program in school will ensure that all staff and students are part of the school support network for each student.

student support network

students can be part of each other's support networks

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