Suicide Prevention Training
In 2018, 11 states passed laws mandating suicide prevention training in public K-12 schools. New York became the first to require it in both public and private K-12 schools. More than 20 states have such laws to combat the second-leading cause of death for people ages 10 through 24.
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 illegal drug use exacerbates suicide risk. Despite the prevalence of legislation mandating training, 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 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 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 properly 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
- Not shame or blame students for their feelings
- Remove means of self-harm
- Remain with the student while immediately seeking help
It’s important for students to understand their mental health 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 people say 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
Parents should understand suicide warning signs and identify 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.
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.
About the Author
Heather Salko, Esq.
Manager of Risk Research
Heather oversees the development of risk research publications. Her areas of expertise include employment law, Title IX, and student mental health. Before joining the Risk Research team, she practiced employment and insurance coverage law and handled UE liability claims for more than a decade.