Intervention involves recognizing when someone is at risk for suicide and referring the person to appropriate treatment.
It is critical that school districts and the schools establish guidelines for identifying, protecting and assisting students who exhibit suicidal or other dangerous behavior.
School administrators are encouraged to identify at least one staff member to be an on-site mental health coordinator. This individual could be a school counselor, psychologist, social worker, or school nurse. Rural schools may select a teacher.
Schools are encouraged to develop a “crisis response plan” outlining procedures for school personnel to follow when working with students exhibiting suicidal behaviors. This plan should be developed by the school administration and should consider input from faculty and staff.
School districts are encouraged to create a crisis team that includes local mental health agencies. When needed, mental health professionals outside the school may assist the school crisis team. All crisis team members, including professionals from mental health agencies, hospitals, private providers and law enforcement would receive training.
Most people who attempt suicide give signs of their intention. Recognizing these warning signs are key to intervention. The following are common warning signs:
- Talking or writing about death or wanting to die
- Looking for a way to kill oneself
- Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
- Talking about feeling trapped or being in unbearable pain
- Talking about being a burden to others
- Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
- Acting anxious, agitated, or reckless
- Sleeping too little or too much
- Withdrawing or feeling isolated
- Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
- Displaying extreme mood swings, including sudden happiness after a long period of depression, which indicates relief at choosing to die
Hope Squad members are trained to recognize warning signs of suicide in their peers, reach out, and refer their peers to trusted adults.
Tips for Parents
Know the warning signs!
Do not be afraid to talk to your child. Talking to your children about suicide will not put thoughts into their head. In fact, all available evidence indicates that talking to your child lowers the risk of suicide.
Respond with belief and compassion. If your child discloses suicidal thoughts, do not say things like, “You don’t really feel that way” and “But you have so much to be grateful for!”
Suicide-proof your home. If you have any concerns about your child, make knives, medications, and firearms inaccessible.
Use school and community resources. This can include your school psychologist, crisis intervention personnel, suicide prevention groups or hotlines, or private mental health professionals.
Take immediate action. If your child indicates he/she is contemplating suicide, or if your gut instinct tells you they might hurt themselves, get help. Do not leave your child alone. Even if he denies “meaning it,” stay with him. Reassure him. Seek professional help. If necessary, drive your child to the hospital’s emergency room to ensure that she is in a safe environment until a psychiatric evaluation can be completed.
Listen to your child’s friends. They may give hints that they are worried about their friend but be uncomfortable telling you directly. Be open. Ask questions.
School personnel should not counsel at-risk students. If concerned about a student’s behavior and safety, they should refer the student to a trained resource, as directed by the school’s policy. These resources may be a counselor, a school social worker, a school nurse, or another support person.
Besides the warning signs already listed, any dramatic change affecting a student’s performance, attendance, or behavior should be taken seriously, such as
- Lack of interest in usual activities
- An overall decline in grades
- Decrease in effort
- Misconduct in the classroom
- Unexplained or repeated absence or truancy
- Substance use
- Incidents leading to police involvement and student violence
Tips for Teachers
Know the warning signs!
Know the school’s responsibilities. Schools have been held liable in the courts for not warning the parents in a timely fashion or adequately supervising the suicidal student.
Encourage students to confide in you. Let students know that you are there to help, that you care. Encourage them to come to you if they or someone they know is considering suicide.
Refer the student immediately. Do not “send” a student to the school psychologist or counselor. Escort the child yourself to a member of the school’s crisis team. If a team has not been identified, notify the principal, psychologist, counselor, nurse, or social worker. (And as soon as possible, request that your school organize a crisis team!)
Join the crisis team. You have valuable information to contribute so that the school crisis team can make an accurate assessment of risk.
Advocate for the child. Sometimes administrators may minimize risk factors and warning signs in a particular student. Advocate for the child until you are certain the child is safe.
It can be scary if a friend talks about suicide, or acts in a way that you think he or she might be in danger. Your friend might have even told you not to tell anyone. But you cannot help your friend on your own. You must tell a trusted adult. Some examples of trusted adults could include your parents, your friend’s parents, a teacher, or a school counselor. You can also also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) or text HOME to 741741, and the responder will talk you through how to help your friend.
Best Practices Registry from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC)
Question, Persuade, Refer (QPR) Gatekeeper training for Suicide Prevention from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC)
Guide to Engaging the Media in Suicide Prevention from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC)
Training: What Gun Owners Can Do to Prevent Suicide Presented by Paul Quinnett, Ph.D. The QPR Institute has partnered with injury prevention experts at Dartmouth and Harvard universities to produce a research-based online training program on what gun dealers, ranger masters, and gun owners can do to prevent suicide.
The training is based on extensive research on the role of firearms in suicidal behavior, and how and why restricting access to firearms by people in emotional crisis can save lives. The training is not anti-gun. Rather, it focuses on what gun dealers and gun owners can do in a “foreground check” — not a “background check” – to prevent inappropriate access to firearms and their misuse.
“In junior high school I was approached by a friend that shared she [wanted] to kill herself. I did not know what to do or say so I hid it from others and did not help her. Now as a Hope Squad member I am trained as a peer that listens, and then I try to convince my friend to get help. If they don’t seek help, I still report it to my advisor. I am not trained as a therapist or a counselor. But I now know what to do.”