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SOS for School Staff: Responding to Suicide Risk in Students

by Jake Donofrio


Despite being preventable, suicide is the second leading cause of death among children aged 10-14 and young adults aged 15-24. MindWise Innovations is dedicated to providing skills and information to youth themselves and the adults with whom they interact in order to prevent this loss of life. We have developed a professional training course for all school personnel designed to teach everyone from teachers to transportation staff how to be trusted adults who can properly assist vulnerable students. Adolescent suicide is an ongoing issue, but there are more reasons to be optimistic about the future of youth suicide prevention than ever before. By empowering adults to confidently and safely intervene with students at risk, we are providing students with a broad web of diverse allies eager to offer support.

MindWise is proud to present SOS for School Staff: Responding to Suicide Risk in Students. SOS for School Staff is a self-guided, online training that enlists all school personnel as partners in suicide prevention. Its purpose is to teach adults to recognize warning signs for suicide in youth, act as trusted supports that can engage in caring conversations with students, and connect children to help through school district protocols.

"School staff are often the first to notice when kids are struggling. By helping them recognize students at risk, every member of the school staff will be the most effective ally possible."

Jim McCauley Co-founder Riverside Trauma Center

This one-hour virtual training, designed for K-12 faculty and staff, uses video and interactive scenarios to teach participants the ACT (Acknowledge, Care, Tell) model already taught to students in the SOS Signs of Suicide curriculum. However, though SOS for School Staff meshes seamlessly with SOS, schools do not need to use SOS to benefit greatly from this new training.

SOS for School Staff was created for everyone in the academic environment including administrators, librarians, custodians, and all other adults with whom a student could interact throughout a school day. This universal approach equips all school staff with the same language and methods for help-seeking when a student is in need. When everyone is on the same page and protocols are in place, a difficult situation becomes easier to manage.


MindWise’s Unique Expertise

“We want to empower those trusted adults at school to feel confident in the steps they need to take when concerned about a student,” explains Meghan Diamon, LCSW, Program Director of Suicide Education for MindWise. “Teachers and staff already do a great job looking out for students. We wanted to provide them with concrete steps they can take to keep a student safe while connecting them to the right staff on campus.”

Diamon led the design of SOS for School Staff along with James McCauley, LICSW, co-founder and Associate Director of MindWise’s Trauma Center. “School staff are often the first to notice when kids are struggling. By helping them recognize students at risk, every member of the school staff will be the most effective ally possible,” says McCauley.


Why Invest in SOS for School Staff

Students spend hours a day under the watchful eyes of school staff. They interact with a range of school employees, from the bus driver who picks them up early in the morning to their after-school coach and all the teachers, counselors, cafeteria workers, and more they see throughout the day. Most of these staffers interact with hundreds of adolescents each day and have a vested interest in the well-being of all of their students. School personnel are uniquely positioned to notice behavioral changes in students. Equipping these trusted adults with the confidence and skills needed to identify warning signs and connect a student to safety is the key to SOS for School Staff.


Evidence of the Effectiveness of Suicide Prevention Training in Schools

As of 2020, 31 states legally mandate suicide prevention training for school personnel and another 15 states have legislation that encourages training among school staffers. Throughout the country, state legislators have acknowledged the need for suicide prevention trainings.

Research shows that after receiving suicide prevention training, the proportion of participants who indicated they were comfortable approaching an at-risk youth and discussing how they are feeling increased from 60% to 90%. This type of instruction has demonstrable value and its importance should not be understated. The same study shows participants experienced substantial gains in their willingness to intervene with a student at risk, as well as in their confidence and feelings of competence in their capability to help.

“Professional suicide prevention training improves people’s knowledge, skills, and confidence in helping others who are at risk and enhances positive beliefs about the efficacy of suicide prevention,” states Bryan Kohl, Executive Director of MindWise. “It has the potential to save lives, and we’d like to see SOS for School Staff being implemented in schools nationwide.”


More Prepared Than Ever

For over a decade, SOS Signs of Suicide has taught youth to reach out for help to trusted adults at school. Each year, in each school, teens respond by seeking help for themselves and for their friends. Now school staff will be more prepared than ever to answer those calls for help any day of the year.

Some of the topics we cover can be difficult. For free and confidential support, call or text the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

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