According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth, resulting in about 4,600 lives lost each year. Educators and trusted community members play a critical role in identifying at-risk youth and helping to increase factors that promote resiliency in these students.
A new school year allows you to reassess the wellbeing of your students. The time away for the summer allows educators and other staff to view students through a new lens. Changes that might have seemed minute in day-to-day interactions can become easier to identify. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) “Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for High Schools,” some risk factors to look for include:
- Low self-esteem
- Social alienation and isolation, lack of belonging
- Low stress and frustration tolerance
- Impulsivity, risk taking or recklessness
- Poor problem-solving or coping skills
According to SAMHSA, protective factors are personal or environmental characteristics that reduce the probability of suicide. It is important that school staff work to enhance protective factors, as they are an essential element of suicide prevention efforts. Protective factors help students develop the capacity to cope positively with the effects of risk factors. This is essentially known as building “resilience.”
There are numerous ways that schools can work to build up the resiliency skill set for students. One of the most important factors is creating a safe environment at school. A safe environment encompasses both physical safety and open communication between students and staff to allow for emotional security.
It is also critical that students feel a sense of school connectedness. The CDC defines connectedness as “the belief held by students that adults and peers in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals.” In addition, providing an atmosphere of respect for the cultural diversity of the student body can play an important role in students’ sense of safety. Students who feel connected to their school are more likely to attain higher grades, have better attendance rates and stay in school for a longer period of time.
To promote the development of protective factors on the individual level, schools can create programs that help students develop more comprehensive problem-solving skills, non-violent conflict resolution and emotional regulation.
As the new school year begins, remember to watch for risk factors for suicide in your students. Think about what protective factors your school currently provides for its students and identify areas that could be strengthened. Building up protective factors in your school is the first step to developing solid resiliency skills in your students.
If you would like to host a community conversation about adolescent mental health and suicide prevention, Screening for Mental Health has free materials to help you arrange an event. Please contact us at 781-239-0071 or firstname.lastname@example.org to get more information on the national initiative sponsored by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration (SAMHSA), Community Conversations About Mental Health.