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Prevent Campus Suicide Clusters

Heather Salko, Esq.
October 2020
Postvention plans to address suicides on campus and prevent suicide clusters

A suicide cluster occurs when direct or indirect knowledge of a suicide encourages another person to attempt or die by suicide. Suicide clusters emerge primarily among teenagers and young adults, and suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students, with approximately 1,500 suicides each year according to the Jed Foundation (JED) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Have a “postvention” plan in place to address any suicide that occurs on your campus, including steps to prevent the emergence of a suicide cluster. Postvention is a series of targeted interventions to provide a response and support in the event of a suicide. Among other things, a good postvention plan should address the following elements.

Communication

Communicating well with the media and the campus community in the aftermath of a suicide is important for preventing contagion. Your postvention plan should include guidelines on publicly discussing the death. For example:

Communications should not:
  • Describe the method or location of the suicide
  • Glorify or romanticize suicide
  • Normalize suicide as a common event or inevitable outcome
  • Oversimplify the causes of suicide, such as stating that the victim was depressed
Communications should:
  • Identify who will speak on your institution’s behalf to reduce conflicting accounts and ensure a consistent voice
  • Respond promptly to get out in front of social media and rumors
  • Monitor social media chatter to understand the campus reaction
  • Identify suicide information and prevention resources
  • Emphasize prevention
  • Encourage help-seeking among community members
Support

Following a suicide in the campus community, consider holding a community support meeting. Ensure the person on campus who facilitates this meeting has been trained. For more information on the format and considerations for the meeting, see the resources below.

Consistency

Ensure the response to a campus suicide is consistent with how your institution responds to other deaths of campus community members. For example, if you would not hold a memorial service for a student who died of natural causes, do not hold one for a student who died by suicide, as this may be seen as a glorification of the suicide.

Good planning and great sensitivity in how your institution responds to a suicide can prevent subsequent tragedies.

Additional Resources