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Suicide Prevention Training

Heather Salko, Esq.
October 2023
Suicide Prevention Masthead
Information to include when developing trainings for K-12 school staff, students, and parents

Seventeen states have laws mandating annual suicide prevention training in public K-12 schools. Another 22 states mandate training but don't require it annually. These efforts have been taken to combat the second-leading cause of death in 2020 for people ages 10 through 14.

While most state suicide prevention laws focus on training teachers and other school staff, some states require student training on warning signs and how alcohol or drug use exacerbates suicide risk. Despite the prevalence of this legislation, a 2018 nationwide survey of school principals found that 75% didn’t know their state’s suicide prevention requirements. Of the 25% who were aware of the requirements, only 66% indicated that their school complied.

If your school hasn’t implemented suicide prevention training, do so regardless of whether your state requires it. Use the following suggestions to shape or assess your training program.

Train Teachers and Staff

Educate faculty and staff about risk factors, warning signs, and responding to situations of concern or suicidal students. “Gatekeeper” training for faculty and staff can make a difference. Incorporate suicide prevention training into broader training on identifying student mental health issues.

Risk factors to convey include:

  • Mental illness, including depression
  • Conduct issues
  • Stress or family dysfunction
  • Situational stressors, including bullying or a family death

In these situations, faculty and staff should look for warning signs, including:

  • Direct and indirect threats to harm oneself
  • Suicidal notes or plans, including social media postings
  • Changes in behavior or appearance
  • Preoccupation with death

Faculty and staff also should be prepared to respond supportively if a student turns to them for help. It is important they:

  • Remain calm.
  • Ask, without judgment, if the student is thinking about suicide.
  • Listen calmly and offer reassurance.
  • Don't shame or blame students for their feelings.
  • Remove means of self-harm.
  • Remain with the student while immediately seeking help.

Train Students

It’s important for students to understand their own mental health needs and for them to look out for peers. Students should understand that notifying adults about concerning behavior is the right thing to do. Conduct age-appropriate student training so they can respond appropriately and seek help when necessary.

For elementary students, train on:

  • Empathy and how to be a good friend
  • Signs of sadness in themselves and others
  • How to reach out to a trusted adult for help
  • Who to contact if a peer says they want to harm themselves or others

For middle school students and above, discuss:

  • Suicide warning signs
  • How to respond if friends share a desire to harm themselves
  • Risks (alcohol use) and protective factors (strong friend network)
  • Where to seek help

Train Parents

Share with parents suicide warning signs and identify for them school and community resources. Making parents aware of what to look for in their children and where they can go for help is another opportunity for suicide prevention.

Identifying a Program

Reviewing and selecting an appropriate training program can be challenging. Look to your state’s education department for approved programs, many of which are produced through or endorsed by state health departments. Additional programs can be found at The Jason Foundation.

Even if your state does not require suicide prevention training, consider adding it to your curriculum to reach students before they need help.


Additional Resources

National Association of State Boards of Education: Suicide Prevention Policy

Youth.gov Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for High Schools

Model School District Policy on Suicide Prevention

Suicide Prevention Resource Center: School Resources

Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction: Notice of Suicide Prevention Resources

After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools


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