Mental Health and Suicide Education for K-12 Schools
Our award-winning team supports the full continuum of mental health – from prevention programs to crisis response, with evidence-based solutions that educate and prioritize health for all ages.
We teach students and school staff how to identify signs of depression and suicide. We create safer, healthier workplaces that understand how mental health intersects with productivity. We help schools and communities recover after traumatic events. And so much more.
Suicide Prevention For Teens
Although suicide is among the leading causes of death for adolescents, suicide is preventable. Moreover, suicide prevention education for teens is safe and effective. Prevention programs teach them the skills they need to manage their mental health and to be on the lookout for warning signs in their peers. Because feelings of depression are often associated with suicide risk, programs offering suicide prevention for youth also teach about symptoms of depression and encourage teens to reach out for help if they experience any of these indicators themselves or see symptoms in their friends.
Having a teen suicide prevention program is a vital part of any school safety plan. Beyond classroom instruction, comprehensive prevention programs will also look at the broader teen mental health ecosystem of a school community and assist school staff and administrators in putting a plan in place both for proactively seeking out and protecting the most vulnerable students and also for responding swiftly and safely in the unfortunate event of a suicide attempt or death within the school community.
In the following sections, we’ll look into: the elements of suicide prevention trainings; the warning signs of suicide risk in teens and why it’s important to know them; ways to intervene in support of youth struggling with depression; and what comprises good suicide prevention organizations.
Suicide Prevention Training
Suicide prevention training can be tailored to accommodate different groups of individuals within a community. For example, in a school setting, programs could target students, teachers, counselors, administrators, parents, and/or other school staff such as bus drivers or cafeteria workers. A key aim of any suicide prevention program is to engage as many members of a community as possible – every adult in a school should be aware of how to help a teen who is suicidal by being prepared to intervene compassionately and safely when they see the warning signs in a student. For example, MindWise Innovations offers SOS for School Staff, a one-hour, self-guided, online suicide prevention training course that teach adults how keep students safe, while connecting them to qualified school staff.
Suicide prevention training can include video content, worksheets, discussion questions, roleplaying, and other group activities. Video content gives the opportunity to hear from clinical experts in the fields of mental health, psychology, and suicidology, as well as firsthand accounts from suicide attempt survivors and their friends and family. Vignettes can demonstrate examples of suicide warning signs and risk factors and highlight the right and wrong ways to approach a student struggling with thoughts of suicide. MindWise’s SOS for Middle and High School programs blends all of these elements and more into a single class period that prepares teens to ACT (Acknowledge, Care, Tell) when they see suicide warning signs.
In addition to identifying any student who may be in a suicidal mindset, suicide prevention programs seek to prepare all members of a class, school, or other educational community to be able to identify warning signs of suicide risk in students. Rather than finding individuals who may be in or near a state of crisis during the time of program delivery, some prevention curricula use a universal model. The goal of such programs is to equip all students with skills and knowledge of mental health that will last a lifetime.
Signs of Suicide in Teens
A core component of any youth suicide prevention program is learning how to recognize the signs of suicide risk in teens. Students need the knowledge of what indicators to watch out for – both in themselves and in their peers – in order to be able to take appropriate action when they spot them. Similarly, teachers – and all school personnel – need awareness of teen suicide warning signs to lookout for the well-being and safety of the adolescents in their care. Warning signs include:
- Talking/writing about death and/or feelings of hopelessness
- Withdrawing from friends/family or activities they previously enjoyed
- Increased drug or alcohol use
- Giving away personal possessions
- Engaging in self-harming behaviors
- Significant changes in mood/temperament
This list is not exhaustive, and it is not always possible to identify a teen who may be considering a suicide attempt; however, being able to recognize suicidal behavior in the right moment can make all the difference.
One key indicator of suicide risk is suicidal ideation, which refers to thoughts of taking one’s own life. Suicidal ideation can be difficult to spot in someone else, but if you notice a friend or family member injuring themselves or frequently talking about dying, it’s likely they are struggling.
Other suicide warning signs in youth may include reckless behavior, substance abuse, self-harm, and expressing feelings of intense guilt or shame. It’s imperative to seek professional help immediately if someone you know is exhibiting one or more of these behaviors.
It’s also important to note that while warning signs may vary between individuals, risk factors for suicide in youth remain constant and include a history of mental illness, a family history of suicide, and exposure to trauma or abuse.
How To Help Teenagers With Depression
Connecting teens struggling with depression to mental health supports is another key component of a strategy for suicide prevention in schools. While depression and suicide risk are not causally linked, the two often correlate. Frequently, signs of suicide risk in adolescents overlap with indicators of teen depression.
Some youth suicide prevention programs include screenings for depression. These screenings are not diagnostic, but they offer indicators that a teen’s experiences are consistent (or not) with the symptoms of depression. Depression screenings are not a requirement of every suicide prevention program but including them is recommended by experts. SOS Signs of Suicide uses the Brief Screen for Adolescent Depression (BSAD) to screen teens for symptoms consistent with depression. The BSAD was adapted by D. Shaffer et al. from the NIMH Diagnostic Interview Schedule for Children version IV (NIMH DISC-IV) and is a nine-item questionnaire that can help determine if a child should be evaluated by a health professional.
The best way to help teenagers who may be struggling with depression is to get them help and connect them with resources for suicide prevention. Ideally this help would be a mental health professional, but any trusted adult is a start. If you see signs that a teenager may be experiencing depression, reach out. An easy way to remember how to help teenagers with depression is to use the ACT model, which is used in SOS Signs of Suicide and SOS for School Staff. ACT was designed with suicide risk in mind, but it also works well to support youth struggling with symptoms of depression.
- A – Acknowledge – empathetically acknowledge the warning signs you see in a teen while refraining from judgment.
- C – Care – make it clear that you care; be sure to highlight the positives in a youth’s life as well as acknowledging the current symptoms.
- T – Tell – encourage them to talk with or tell a mental health professional what they’re experiencing. Teens may not be immediately open to seeking treatment but be patient.
Suicide Prevention Organization
There are a variety of different types of organization that provide suicide prevention training. Some are foundations, nonprofits, government agencies, or private corporations. Suicide prevention organizations sometimes focus solely on their prevention efforts, while others provide a range of mental health supports. Often different suicide prevention organizations collaborate together in partnerships, where, for example, a foundation might provide funds to a nonprofit in order to bring prevention education to local schools or communities. Particularly in the case of evidence-based suicide prevention training, government agencies such as state- or city-level departments of mental health will partner with providers to offer their programs.
MindWise Innovations is a suicide prevention organization that does all of the above. MindWise offers evidence-based prevention education to middle and high schools across the U.S. in addition to bringing mental health support to workplaces ranging from construction sites to classroom and from fishing boats to boardrooms. MindWise also serves mental health professionals with training on topics at the cutting edge of modern behavioral healthcare, including Suicide Assessment and Intervention Training, Trauma-Informed Systems, Fostering Resilience, and more.
Lastly, MindWise provides suicide prevention training to college and university students as well as their younger counterparts. MindWise On Campus is an online course that can be completed individually or as part of a peer-led group to educate students on the warning signs of suicide and how to respond safely when observing them in themselves or their peers.