SMHPW Policy Recommendation 3Student Mental Health Policy Workgroup (SMHPW) third recommendation to the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Recommendation 3: Comprehensive School Board Policies and Administrative Regulations for Youth Suicide Prevention
Youth in Crisis
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of ten and twenty-four in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that approximately 4,600 lives are lost each year—and that suicide among teens and young adults has nearly tripled since the 1940s.
More than 90 percent of people who die by suicide have a treatable mental illness such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, personality disorder, anxiety disorder (including posttraumatic stress disorder and panic attacks), eating disorders, and/or alcohol and substance abuse. Yet only 38 percent of U.S. adults and less than 20 percent of children and adolescents with diagnosable mental illnesses receive needed treatment, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).
Recognizing that suicide is a major cause of death among young people, the Student Mental Health Policy Workgroup recommends that school district governing boards respond to this health crisis with school district policies and administrative regulations based on preventive strategies, intervention, and postvention procedures.
Develop a Plan
School district governing boards should direct district superintendents to plan and evaluate the districts’ policies and strategies for suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention procedures. The evaluation process should involve school health professionals, school counselors, school social workers, and other school staff, as well as parents/guardians/caregivers, students, local health agencies and professionals, and community organizations. The board policies and administrative regulations for youth suicide prevention should align with each school’s Comprehensive School Safety Plan.
Create a Positive School Climate
Suicide prevention begins with strategies to promote a positive school climate that fosters healthy, respectful relationships among students, staff, and parents/guardians/caregivers and strengthens students’ feelings of connectedness to their school.
Essential to positive school climate are discipline policies and programs that focus on keeping students in school and learning, while providing the tools and opportunities they need to succeed through strategies such as Restorative Justice and Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS).
School climate improvement can be a strong contributor to suicide prevention, but it must be an integral component of all school improvement efforts (including all Local Control and Accountability Plans), with strong leadership, guidance, and schoolwide commitment.
Each school’s Comprehensive School Safety Plan should promote the healthy mental, emotional, and social development of students. Mental health education should be included in any health class in the school curriculum to enhance students’ understanding of mental health issues through social-emotional learning.
The superintendent or a designee should be responsible for reviewing each school’s Comprehensive School Safety Plan and for the implementation of the district’s suicide prevention policy and administrative regulations. The superintendent or a designee should encourage schools to incorporate student input in any plans for improving school climate or preventing suicide. School climate surveys, with input from students, parents/guardians/caregivers, and the entire school community are essential to assess a school’s strengths and areas of greatest need at the outset, as well as to determine whether improvement efforts are having an impact.
Provide Staff Development
Staff training for student mental health and suicide prevention and postvention should be provided and designed to help staff identify and respond to students who are at risk, beginning with a survey to determine current knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs regarding student mental health.
The training should be offered under the direction of a school counselor, school social worker, school psychologist, or in cooperation with one or more community behavioral health agencies. The training should include the following methods of suicide prevention:
- Recognize warning signs that may indicate suicidal ideation, including changes in a student’s appearance, personality, or behavior.
- Understand potential risk factors for students, such as: exposure to trauma, previous attempts to harm/injure themselves, abuse in the family, history of depression or mental illness, substance abuse, family history of suicide or violence, feelings of isolation, being bullied or bullying, interpersonal conflicts, a recent severe loss, or family instability.
- Use research-based instructional strategies to teach suicide prevention and postvention curriculum and promote mental and emotional health.
- Develop an inventory of community resources and services that are available for referral.
- Disseminate district procedures for the appropriate interventions to use when a student attempts, threatens, or expresses thoughts about committing suicide.
- Cultivate annual opportunities for student involvement, such as the NAMI on Campus, NAMI Ending the Silence, Sources of Strength, My3App, Walk in Our Shoes, Directing Change, and other related programs and resources.
- Ensure that all staff members are included in training. Veteran staff will need “refresher” training and new teachers and other staff will need an “orientation” training. The training may coincide with discussions regarding the role of school staff as mandated reporters.
Implement Intervention Strategies
Whenever a staff member suspects or has knowledge of a student’s suicidal ideation, he/she will promptly notify the principal or a designated school counselor or school social worker. The principal, school counselor, or school social worker then should notify the student’s parents/guardians/caregivers as soon as possible and may refer the student to mental health resources in the school or community.
Students should be encouraged to notify a teacher, principal, school counselor, school social worker, or other adult when they are experiencing thoughts of suicide or when they suspect or have knowledge that another student is considering suicide.
Establish Suicide Prevention Procedures
The governing board of each district should direct the superintendent or a designee to establish crisis intervention procedures to ensure student safety and appropriate communications at the district level in the event that a suicide occurs or an attempt is made on campus or at a school-sponsored activity. Incidents that are not school-related may also have an impact on students and should be considered as well.
The goals of postvention include supporting the survivors, preventing imitation suicides by identifying other individuals who are at risk for self-destructive behavior, avoiding sensationalism, avoiding glorifying or vilifying of suicide victims, managing the message shared with other students, and referring any student who is at risk to intervention services.
Suicide prevention procedures in the district should be reflected in updates to each school’s Comprehensive School Safety Plan.