Suicide touches all of us. For educators, alarming trends in death by suicide among children and teens have made suicide prevention training in schools a mental health topic that today is unavoidable.
Here are a few things that educators should know about suicide prevention for teens.
1. Everyone at school has a role to play.
School counselors or mental health professionals aren’t the only ones equipped to address student mental health. When it comes to the wellbeing of students, educators in particular play an important role. They observe and interact with students on a daily basis, and their time spent with students makes them more attuned to changes and warning signs of self-harm.
While suicide is a sensitive and serious subject, the reality is that everyone – teachers, aides, administrators, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, after-school coordinators, administrators, and even other students – plays a role as the eyes and ears of suicide prevention in schools.
2. It’s ok to ask about suicide.
Many people assume that bringing up the topic of suicide will make someone more likely to harm themselves. Not necessarily. While it is important to be mindful in these conversations, studies show that acknowledging and talking about suicide may, in fact, reduce suicidal ideation, rather than increase it. Therefore, the importance of talking about it in some instances can outweigh the barriers or hesitation.
3. Know the warning signs.
Four out of five teens who attempt suicide will give a clear warning. While warning signs do not stem down to a single cause, knowing the warning signs can make educators ready to intervene.
A common warning sign of a student contemplating suicide is talking about suicide itself, as well as feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness. A list of warning signs is available at https://www.youthsuicidewarningsigns.org.
4. Know where to go for help.
Just like how many of us keep a list of emergency phone numbers handy, the same is a good idea for suicide prevention resources.
Teachers may generally be familiar with counseling resources in their own school, and should be prepared to emphasize these resources as available for students. Sometimes that can involve a sign in the classroom, a verbal mention, or offering to accompany a student to a school counselor.
5. One conversation can make a difference.
Stepping in to have a conversation about mental health doesn’t have to be hard, it just takes a little preparation and a mindful approach. At Kognito, our simulations were designed to allow educators to practice different approaches to conversations. Remembering to listen and asking open-ended questions are some strategies that can get students to open up and build trust.
Ultimately, educators play a role in motivating students to seek help, as well as overall suicide prevention in schools. One conversation really does make a difference and will signal to a troubled student that someone cares about them.