A Guide to Suicide Prevention in Schools: Recommendations for Everyone
by Nick Hanzel-Snider
Although suicide is a leading cause of death among adolescents, suicide IS preventable. In addition to its potential to prevent suicide deaths, educating youth around suicide and mental health helps build awareness of the risks and warning signs that will benefit students throughout their lives. Whether you’re just figuring out where to start or looking to take your existing programming to the next level, we’ve got something for you.
For the Newbies
You’re interested in bringing suicide prevention programming to your school, but you’re starting from the ground up with a budget of paper clips and shoestrings – what next?
Step One: Start the conversation. Speak with other educators, talk to administrators, find out what may have been done in the past and who needs to be brought on board. We’ve put together a toolkit to help communicate the importance and the safety of evidence-based suicide prevention education. Check out our totally-free Schoolkit here.
Step Two: Research your options. Check out the Suicide Prevention Resource Center to find a program that works for you. If you’re considering SOS Signs of Suicide, know that MindWise works with partners including foundations and state governments to provide scholarship funding – take a moment to complete our SOS Scholarship Application to apply.
Step Three: Educate yourself. If gatekeeper training like SOS for School Staff is outside your current budget, start with the basics: learn the warning signs of suicide risk in adolescents. Be a trusted adult within your school community. If you notice warning signs in students, speak up. Ask them if they’re thinking about suicide.
Step Four: Meet your new favorite website: the BH Beat. All resources in the BH Beat are free to use. Good places to start include:
For the Experienced
You’ve been implementing a suicide prevention program at your school for a number of years but want to go beyond classroom instruction – what’re the next steps?
Step One: Reintroduce yourself to the BH Beat. This free collection of videos, PDFs, and templates covers everything from Mental Health Awareness Month to suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention. You’ll want to bookmark it, too, so you can check back frequently for updated content.
Step Two: Utilize refresher content. For those using SOS, refresher content and supplemental lesson plans are built into the program (if you use another suicide prevention program, ask your provider for refresher content!). It never hurts to review the key skills used in suicide prevention, but fresh content helps keep your students engaged year after year.
Step Three: Train your entire school community to be trusted adults. Gatekeeper training prepares everyone from bus drivers to administrators to recognize the warning signs of suicide risk and to respond swiftly and safely. Do your research and choose the training that best fits your school; consider SOS for School Staff, which uses video and interactive tools to teach adults to recognize warning signs, engage in appropriate conversations, and keep students safe.
Step Four: Remember to take care of yourself. In order to show up at your best for the students in your school community, you need to show up for yourself first. Establish a self-care routine for yourself. These brief guided meditation videos are a good place to start.
For the Pros
You’ve been educating your students for years on how to look out for the warning signs of suicide, you’ve trained your staff on how to be trusted adults, and you want to keep this momentum going – what do you do?
Step One: Review trainings that can upgrade the skills of your staff. Some examples: Suicide Assessment & Intervention increases knowledge and improves the skills and confidence of counselors and other mental health professionals; Fostering Resilience educates employees on how to manage their own responses to stress; and Postvention: Responding to Schools, Workplaces, and Communities Following Suicide provides guidelines for safe and effective interventions.
Step Two: Consider becoming a trauma-informed school. Becoming trauma-informed helps build a safe and supportive school community for both students and staff. Whether through consultation, trainings, or our Trauma-Informed Academy – MindWise offers a range of ways to help you become a Trauma-Informed School (contact us if you’re interested in learning more).
Step Three: Support good mental health in the workplace. Schools are workplaces, too. We have a slew of articles and videos to help you get started.
Step Four: You guessed it, check out the BH Beat. Whether you’re a pro or a noob, the BH Beat has something for you. From COVID-specific resources to tips for parents and students on social media use after a suicide loss to an introduction to trauma-informed systems, this free library has what you need to support your school community.