Adapted from information provided by the Office of Suicide Prevention, Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. Suicide is a serious concern in the US, particularly in the mountain states. Parents are often unaware of the risk of suicide among youth. A recent survey indicates that 13.8% of students nationally had seriously considered attempting suicide, and 6.3% of students had attempted suicide one or more times during the 12 months before the survey (YRBSS 2009). In Colorado, suicide remains the second leading cause of death among children between 10 and 19 years of age. In Colorado Springs, suicide has increased tremendously over the years, and this holds true for youth.
The best thing a staff member can do is to take any signs of depression and suicide seriously. Don’t be afraid to talk to your students about depression and suicide, it is a myth that talking about suicide promotes suicide. Most suicides occur due to some form of mental condition, such as depression or a substance abuse disorder.
Depression, bipolar disorder, or other mental illness
Significant loss (divorce, death, loss of health, separation, break-ups, loss of respect)
The #1 risk factor is a previous attempt. Pressure to succeed
Poor self esteem
Family history of suicidal behavior
Someone close to individual has completed suicide
Depression is treatable and suicide is preventable.
Talking to your student about suicide is difficult, but not talking about it can be devastating. Get up the courage and do it, or find a school mental health professional that can do it, and get your student the help he or she needs.
When to talk to your students
Pay attention to your instincts.
When things don’t seem quite right with your student’s
behavior, say something. Tell them what you are noticing.
Know the suicide warning signs. Although kids thinking
about suicide are not likely to seek professional help, most
show warning signs to their friends, classmates, parents or
Significant changes in behavior and/or personality
Withdrawing from family and friends
Loss of interest in activities, work, school, hobbies, or social interactions
Giving away prized possessions
Increased drug and/or alcohol use
Statements about hopelessness, or worthlessness
Taking unnecessary risks
More agitation or more easily angered
Sudden happiness or calmness following a depressed mood
Obsession with death, or preoccupation with dying, guns, knives, or hanging materials
Problems in school or work performance
Chronic pain or frequent complaints of physical symptoms
An inability to concentrate, trouble remembering things
Self-injurious behaviors including running into traffic, jumping from heights and scratching or cutting their body.
Suicide is preventable. Talking about it is the first step. If these warning signs are present and you do not believe your student to be suicidal (or they deny it), they are showing some signs of depression, which can lead to suicidal thinking. If you see any of these signs talk to your student and to your school mental health professional.
What To Say
“You know, when people are as upset as you seem to be, they sometimes wish they weren’t alive. I’m wondering if you’re feeling that way too?”
“Are you thinking about hurting yourself?”
“Are you thinking of suicide?”
If you cannot ask the question, find someone who can! Persuade: Persuade the person to get help
Persuading someone not to end his or her life and get help begins with the simple act of listening. Listening can be life saving. Listen first, then persuade.
Listen to the person’s pain and issues
Do not be judgmental
Ask them to go with you to get help, you must inform others.
Refer: Refer the person to the appropriate resources
The best referral is done when you personally take the student you are worried about to the counselor, social worker, or school psychologist. If they are mad at you, it is better that they are mad at you now, than dead later.
Don’t wait, act immediately. Your school mental health professionals will assess the situation and contact parents. Parents must always be informed, even if the risk is low.
Take all suicide threats seriously.
Tell your student what you are noticing, and make statements about their changed behavior. Ask questions directly and openly ("Are you thinking of suicide? Do you have a plan? ")
Show that you care. Listen and express concern in a nonjudgmental way.
Take action! Get your student connected with professional help by letting your school counselor, social worker or school psychologist know what is going on.
Be vigilant. Once a student has begun treatment for suicidal ideation or an attempt there can still be a high risk of suicide.
What Not To Do
Do not delay. Respond immediately. Do not hold off until late in the day or the next day to tell a school mental health professional of your concerns.
Do not keep it a secret. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Keeping this a secret and not telling school personnel and parents would be considered “negligence” and “foreseeability”, things that can be taken to court.
It is negligent on the part of the school not to notify parents or guardians when students are known or suspected to be suicidal. Even when a student denies suicidal intent, if the collaborative team suspects the child to be suicidal, they have an obligation to notify parents. It is also negligent not to supervise the student closely. Do not leave the suicidal student alone under any circumstance.
If a child writes or talks about suicide, adults should be able to foresee a potential suicide.
Do not sidestep the issue or treat it lightly. It is hard to hear, but you must address it, or get someone who can.
Do not offer simple solutions.
Do not judge, their pain is real and serious to them.
Do not try to be a therapist. Get professional help for the student.
It is important to update your knowledge of suicide prevention, intervention and postvention. If you are interested in learning more you may want to take the online course on your own time and for credit through ERO:
Making Educators Partners in Suicide Prevention In District 11 there are several school mental health professionals (school psychologists, social workers and counselors) who are designated as School Suicide Specialists by the American Association of Suicidology. The School Suicide Prevention Accreditation Program is a self-study course and exam for school professionals who want to increase their knowledge of school-based suicide prevention issues such as:
In addition, district crisis team members are expected to update their knowledge in crisis response, suicide and other threats of violence regularly. Each school has school mental health professionals that can assist you.
If you are concerned about your student with regard to suicidal thinking or self harming behavior, please contact your school mental health professional or Ms. Sandra Milligan, the Prevention, Intervention and Postvention Coordinator at 499-2374, your local mental health agency, Aspen Pointe, or emergency room, or hotline. Additional resources are found below: