Confronting Suicide Among K-12 Students
According to the American Association for Suicidology, suicide was the second leading cause of death in the world for people 15-24 years of age and for people 10-14 years of age. The paper suggested suicide prevention/intervention and training is “justified and imperative” for family members, the community, and especially for teachers and faculty members. It is also important to note that every year 1 in 15 high school students attempts suicide.
Students should have access to suicide prevention/intervention programs, especially in the school environment. All educators and parents should be aware of the risk factors and warning signs that should be recognizable in a child or adolescent considering suicide. These risk factors don’t necessarily mean someone will attempt suicide but they should never be ignored. These factors include:
- mental illness
- alcohol or other substance abuse
- easy access to lethal items (e.g., firearms and pills)
- previous suicide attempts
- non-suicidal self-injury
- exposure to friends’/family member’s suicide
- sexual orientation confusion
- low self-esteem
Depression and anxiety are the two most common mental illnesses that can lead to suicide. What is striking, however, is that at the time of death, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found more than half of the people who died by suicide “did not have a known diagnosed mental health condition”.
There are also a number of protective factors that can mitigate or reduce the risks of suicidal behavior. These include:
- strong connections to family and community support
- restricted access to lethal items
- cultural and religious beliefs
- problem solving and conflict resolution skills
- access to health care for mental, physical, and substance abuse concerns
Warning signs to watch for include:
- talking about dying
- changing behavior, personality, sleep patterns, or eating habits
- acting erratically or recklessly
- harming self or others
There are many suicide prevention resources available for schools. The U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration under the Department of Health and Human Services has a wonderful resource called Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for High Schools. The tool kit “includes tools to implement a multifaceted suicide prevention program that responds to the needs and cultures of students.” At a minimum, all school personnel should be aware of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. This lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or online at https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/.