In the United States, suicide is one of the leading causes of death, with almost 46,000 deaths in 2020. This is equivalent to one death every 11 minutes.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for children who are 10 to 18 years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The number of school-age children who feel lonely, sad, hopeless, or suicidal has risen sharply. Young people are feeling disconnected and out of touch with peers.
However, suicide can be prevented, and communities are taking action and talking about the topic more than ever, which helps to remove the stigma associated with suicide.
Suicide Prevention in the Classroom
Bringing the discussion about teen suicide prevention into the classroom is a critical step toward further removing the stigma and opening the door to a more supportive, connected environment for students.
By addressing the needs of students and making them aware that there is help and support close by, schools can make a significant impact on the mental health and well-being of their students.
How to Talk about Teen Suicide Prevention
Knowing how to talk with students about suicide is in itself important. A great way to initially approach the subject is with a suicide prevention program like Rachel’s Challenge. These programs promote social connectedness as part of a comprehensive approach to suicide prevention.
Fostering Emotional Well-Being
Schools must promote a sense of connectedness and support among all students, which are two key factors that protect against suicide. When classrooms foster positive and supportive relationships between students, those community connections help to buffer the effects of the risk factors of suicide.
Using Appropriate Language
Knowing the appropriate language to use when discussing suicide prevention helps educators and parents to gently share knowledge.
Laura Mayer, Director of PRS Crisislink, explains that it’s important to use the term “suicide awareness” when discussing suicide prevention with teens. That way any students who have been or may become affected by a suicide tragedy will be less likely to feel like they are somehow responsible for a suicide.
Stressing the Fact that Students Are Never Responsible for Another’s Suicide
It’s important when talking about teen suicide prevention in classrooms that students understand that the issue is much more complex than just one person. They need to know that blaming themselves is never appropriate as suicide is a complex issue. Students must be helped to understand that they should never feel responsible for another person’s suicide.
Make Sure Students Know the Risk Factors and Signs
It’s important that students know how to identify peers who may be at risk for suicide. They should know the warning signs of serious or immediate risk. Some factors that increase risk include:
- Access to a means to commit suicide
- Previous suicide attempts
- Mental health disorders
- Family history of mental health disorders or suicide
- Childhood trauma, neglect, or abuse
- Exposure to another person’s suicide
- Stressful life circumstances
Signs of immediate and serious risk are:
- Talking about or making plans to commit suicide
- Displaying overwhelming distress
- Expressing a hopeless outlook for the future
- Withdrawing from social situations
- Changes in sleep
- Increased irritability
- Anger or hostility that seems out of context
Educators and students should know what to do if they notice these signs in a person. According to the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide (SPTS), students (and teachers) should express their concerns about the student’s behavior and directly ask them about suicide.
Encourage the student to call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK, and get the school’s mental health contact involved.
Discussion Questions for Suicide Prevention in Classrooms
An active discussion should include information about specific people and places students can go to for help. During a discussion about suicide prevention in classrooms, students should be asked and provided with the answers to the following questions:
- Does the school have a social worker, psychologist, or student counselor?
- What are their names?
- Where are their offices located?
- What are the jobs of these members of the support staff?
- As a student, are you aware that you may speak to them at any time?
Every school should have a mental health contact, which is the person who is responsible for responding to a mental health crisis. Every member of the school staff must know who this main mental health contact is.
Rachel’s Challenge and Suicide Prevention in Classrooms
Rachel’s Challenge offers several powerful programs to help schools foster learning environments that reconnect students with each other, teachers, and also with who they want to be or could be. When youths feel disconnected, lonely, and out of place, a future self is difficult for them to envision.
Connection is the number one buffer against the risk factors of teen suicide. Reach out to Rachel’s Challenge today to learn about how our programs can help educators and students connect in your school.