Anytime we lose a young person to suicide is one time too many. Did you know that suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24? It’s worse than that, though. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also found in a nationwide survey of students in grades 9–12 in both public and private schools in the United States that 16% of students reported seriously considering suicide, 13% reported creating a plan, and 8% reporting trying to take their own life in the year before the survey.
Recognizing the First Signs
School personnel are in a prime position to recognize the warning signs of suicide (see below) and make immediate referrals for intervention. They need adequate training to acquire the necessary skills and confidence to intervene with youth at-risk. Required and readily available training is one way to ensure that all school personnel have a baseline understanding of suicide risk and the referral process. In addition to educators and school leaders, school-based mental health professionals such as counselors, social workers, and psychologists are essential to implementing policies and practices to strengthen a safe and healthy school environment, identify students who may be at risk of suicide, and immediately intervene.
Effective suicide prevention is an essential component of any violence prevention effort. Schools will be more effective in suicide prevention with a comprehensive approach that involves better awareness, training, and a coordinated effort to link students and families in need of services with community resources. The National Education Association (NEA) and NEA Healthy Futures strongly encourage our members to include suicide prevention, alertness, and intervention and postvention programs in the ongoing professional development and educator preparation programs for teachers, education support professionals, and specialized instructional support personnel, including school mental health service providers.
What can you do?
- NEA members should familiarize themselves with the suicide prevention resources and information available to school personnel
- Determine whether your state or school district provides training opportunities for school personnel to identify students in need and respond appropriately
- Use available resources to advocate for state, district and/or school board policies that support suicide prevention training programs for school personnel
- Learn more on our Advocacy Resources for Suicide Prevention Web page
- Learn the warning signs for suicide (see below)
Warning Signs for Suicide
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself
- Looking for a way to kill oneself, such as searching online or buying a gun
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious or agitated; behaving recklessly
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings
These signs may mean someone is at risk for suicide. Risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. Seek help as soon as possible by contacting a mental health professional or calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) (source: www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org).
More information and resources for educators and school staff are available from:
- The Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC)
- The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP)
- The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP)
- The Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
We also encourage you to watch this powerful video and to remember that we are all “key gatekeepers” in our school communities: