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 Resources
When it comes to preventing teenage suicide, there are a range of resources available. These can be as simple as a poster or flyer that reminds teens to be on the lookout for warning signs in themselves or their peers. Suicide prevention resources can also be more complex and structured such as trainings for youth, parents, and/or school personnel.
One key resource for suicide prevention is the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. By calling or texting 988, teenagers – or any concerned individuals – can be connected to a national network of local crisis centers. The service is free and confidential.
The community surrounding an individual is also a critical resource to prevent teen suicide. Whether it is family and friends, other members of a faith-based community, teachers and peers from school, teammates and coaches, or other important connections in an adolescent’s life, this cushion of community can support a struggling teen in multiple ways. They can be on the lookout for warning signs, be sources of resilience and confidence, and be lifelines by intervening in a crisis.
Local mental health professionals and organizations can also be resources for suicide prevention. MindWise’s SOS Signs of Suicide program encourages school counselors and administrators to partner with local mental health groups and practitioners in order to be able to offer recommendations to families whose child has been identified as at risk. Such partnerships and collaboration also foster the relationships that will facilitate better communication and synergy in the unfortunate event of a crisis.
Finally, training for both students and school staff in how to prevent teenage suicide is an essential resource for suicide prevention. In the sections ahead, we’ll look in more detail at the warning signs of suicide covered in prevention trainings, suicide prevention schools, and what comprises suicide prevention training.
Warning Signs Of Suicide
Recognizing the warning signs of suicide in teens is critical to identifying those at risk and providing the necessary support and resources. First things first: what are the warning signs of suicide? 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
A key indicator of suicide risk is suicidal ideation, which refers to thoughts of taking one’s own life. While the prevention of suicidal thoughts may not be possible, if you notice a friend or family member injuring themselves or frequently talking about dying, they may be struggling to manage intense inner turmoil.
Major shifts in personality, such as sudden withdrawal from friends and social activities or a decrease in academic performance, can be another warning sign to look out for, especially among youth. Changes in mood – for example, prolonged sadness, irritability, or rage – can also indicate a need for support.
It’s 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.
Suicide Prevention In Schools
Schools are ideal environments to bring suicide prevention education to youth. As adolescents spend a large percentage of their time amongst their peers, teachers, and other school personnel, it is a community uniquely placed to be on the lookout for warning signs, to respond swiftly and safely when necessary, and to teach skills that will help youth manage their mental health throughout their lives. Suicide prevention in schools can follow two major routes (and ideally both should be pursued simultaneously): interventions aimed at the students themselves and interventions focused on school staff.
There are many options for suicide prevention programs in schools for students. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention’s website on suicide prevention programs offers information on many of these programs, including SOS Signs of Suicide for Middle and High Schools. Programs like SOS can be brought to students classroom by classroom or via assembly to all students in a given grade level.
Suicide prevention in schools for students also serves to bring mental health support to teens. Learning about how to reduce suicide risk inherently includes learning about how to manage your mental health and well-being. Oftentimes suicide prevention education programs will surface mental health issues in adolescents, allowing for earlier intervention in treating potential behavioral health disorders such as depression or anxiety. The more support a school offers students to take care of their mental health, the more prepared that school community is for suicide prevention.
Targeting suicide prevention training for school staff is also extremely important. Doing so helps make every adult in a school community a partner in suicide prevention. Such training prepares school staff from teachers to bus drivers to custodial workers with the knowledge of suicide warning signs and how to connect an at-risk student with help.
Suicide Prevention Training
The centerpiece of any school’s suicide prevention strategy is suicide prevention training. This component focuses on teaching youth suicide warning signs and risk factors. It is critical for both students and school personnel to be able to identify warning signs of suicide risk and be aware of risk factors – in themselves and in their peers. Beyond that, training for suicide prevention includes instruction in how to safely and respectfully intervene with a student or friend who may be struggling with thoughts of suicide.
The format of suicide prevention training may vary, possibly including video content, worksheets, discussion questions, roleplaying, and other group activities. Video content provides a chance to learn directly from clinical experts of mental health, psychology, and suicidology. Videos sometimes also contain 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 Signs of Suicide for Middle and High School programs blend 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.
Programs for suicide prevention can also include online suicide prevention training. SOS for School Staff, for example, is a one-hour, self-led training for all adult members of a school community. While SOS for School Staff can also be facilitated live in a group setting, the online version is completed online asynchronously. Like SOS Signs of Suicide, SOS for School Staff teaches the ACT (Acknowledge, Care, Tell) model to prepare everyone from teachers to cafeteria workers to be trusted adults for the youth in their school.
No suicide prevention program would be complete without the inclusion of mental health support in schools. For youth who may be at risk of making a suicide attempt, the earlier the intervention the better. Identifying and addressing any mental health issues before they worsen and potentially lead to suicidal ideation is itself a form of suicide prevention. Including mental health supports as part of training for suicide prevention is also important to equip adolescents with knowledge and skills to manage their own mental health throughout their lives, thus lowering their future risk of suicide.
Suicide Prevention For Teens
Despite being among the leading causes of death for teens, suicide is preventable. Suicide prevention for teens is safe and effective. Prevention programs like SOS Signs of Suicide teach adolescents the skills they need to manage their mental health and to be aware of warning signs in their peers. Feelings of depression are often associated with suicide risk, so learning the warning signs of depression is another important part of teen suicide prevention.
Suicide prevention for teens is a crucial part of any school safety plan. Comprehensive prevention programs will go beyond classroom instruction to also look at the broader mental health ecosystem of a school community. Suicide prevention programs should also assist school staff and administrators in putting a plan in place to proactively seek out and protect the most vulnerable students, as well as to respond swiftly and safely in the unfortunate event of a suicide attempt or death within the school community.