Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among people aged 15-24 in the U.S, with 18.8% of high school students having reported thoughts of suicide in the past year. This percentage is higher in female students, at 24.1%, and even higher among LGBTQ+ teens, at 46.8%. With suicide on the rise for students, schools are uniquely positioned to engage in suicide prevention. Teens spend most of their time at school, making it especially important for schools to learn how they can best create a safe and supportive environment for all students. Suicide is preventable, and schools need to take action.
The Role of the School
Schools have an essential role in interacting with adolescents. Educators, counselors, administrators and other school staff often interact with students just as much as their family members and friends. Therefore, it is critical that schools implement strategies in order to to help prevent teen suicide. A few ways that schools can do this include:
Bullying prevention: bullying and suicide are closely related. 1 out of every 5 students in middle and high school report being victims of bullying. Students who experience bullying are two times more likely to attempt suicide. Schools have a crucial role in preventing bullying. One strategy a school can take is offering comprehensive bystander training for students, teaching students how to defend a victim of bullying. Additionally, there are other training sessions for staff, parents, and students on how to report, different types of bullying, and how to respond assertively to bullies. Thirdly, schools should set clear, enforceable expectations around bullying. Teach students these rules and set a tone for the classroom around them.
Implementing Social Emotional Learning (SEL) as early as possible: SEL is a form of education that helps students learn to manage their social and emotional skills. The skills that SEL emphasizes teach students to handle emotional setbacks, building their resilience. SEL has been shown to mitigate risk factors for youth suicide, including hopelessness, anxiety, and substance use. It also increases self-control, as poor self control dramatically increases the risk for suicide. Lastly, SEL programs help reduce suicide by strengthening protective factors, including problem solving, coping, and conflict resolution skills.
Create a safe culture for ALL students: this includes fostering an inclusive environment where every student feels accepted and valued. This could be implementing all school assemblies aimed at creating togetherness and school pride, as well as acknowledging different learning styles and creating plans for all students to succeed. When a student feels safe, it also pushes them to reach out to a teacher or counselor for support if they are struggling with suicidal thoughts. With an environment that prioritizes all students, a student is less likely to struggle in silence. While creating this safe environment, it is also important for schools to promote mental health services to students. Some examples of services to make aware to students include a local mobile crisis line, as well as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
Preventive Mental Health Supports are Key
Implementing prevention and early intervention strategies can greatly reduce, as well as prevent, mental health struggles. Promoting positive mental health increases protective factors and healthy behaviors that can prevent the onset of a mental health condition. Preventative supports do not only help decrease the risk of suicide, but help all mental health conditions from developing or worsening to a place of crisis. It is important for schools to implement preventative measures including psychoeducation, anti-bullying policies, reducing the stigma around mental health, and training students and staff to prevent harm. There are many crisis resources that schools can promote for students to be aware of, including:
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