Intervention Strategies for Suicide

Read a series of important prevention and "postvention" suicide intervention strategies.
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Updated on: September 18, 2001
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Suicide Postvention Strategies

In the event that a suicide does occur, it is critical that schools have a plan of action in place to prevent the possibility of a suicide cluster. In the event of a school-related suicide, the school becomes a suicide survivor. Collectively, the school experiences all of the emotions (e.g., guilt, anger, anxiety, and denial) that individual survivors encounter. These intense emotional reactions are amplified by having so many people in one place who are survivors.

An effective post-suicide plan should include:
  • The identification of high-risk students.
  • A plan for announcing a death.
  • Counseling for at-risk students.
  • A plan for allowing students to attend the funeral.
  • Preparation of a response for the media.
  • Debriefing.
Regular education teachers, special education teachers, coaches, counselors, and other school staff members must be prepared to identify the following high-risk students for suicide clusters in the event of a school-related suicide:
  1. Relatives and close friends of the deceased.
  2. Boyfriend or girlfriend of the deceased.
  3. Pall bearers at the funeral.
  4. Hospital visitors, if the deceased had made previous suicide attempts.
  5. Students who are absent in the following week, if not clearly excused for an illness.
  6. People outside of the school who had close involvement with the deceased.
  7. Students with a history of depression.
  8. Students with weak social supports.
  9. Students who recently moved into the school.
  10. Students with known family troubles.
  11. Anyone involved in past or present suicide attempts.

Suicide evokes more complex emotions in survivors than any other form of death. Heightened emotions often result in the distortion of facts and the generation of rumors surrounding the suicide. Reports of the event are usually more graphic and gruesome than what actually occurred. To alleviate these reactions, a plan should be in place for informing school personnel about a school-related suicide.

General and special educators should be told privately and given time to deal with their own emotions before sharing information with students. In addition to being informed about the suicide, school personnel should be provided with information regarding where to send students, what to say to students, and what the funeral arrangements are. Because many individuals may be at risk once a suicide occurs, the school counseling department should be freed of other responsibilities so that they will have time to interact effectively with students referred for counseling.

It is not advisable to hold a memorial service at the school in response to a suicide, as it may dramatize and glorify the suicidal act. Students should be allowed, however, to attend funeral services as a means of working through the grief reaction process. Counseling should be available after the funeral service for any student who indicates an interest in talking with someone. Any memorializing that students want to do should be focused on helping survivors or on promoting healthy living skills.

Suicide, especially one involving a student or school staff member, acts like a magnet for the media. The following are suggestions for effectively working with the media in the aftermath of a suicide:
  • Whenever possible, use the district spokesperson to address the media.
  • Provide factual, but not graphic, information.
  • Direct the press to other resources that can provide additional information on the topic of suicide.
  • Provide honest answers to questions.
  • Describe the plan of action in place and the resources being used to effectively deal with the aftermath of the suicide.
  • Remind the media of the consequences of sensationalizing a school-related suicide, especially one involving a student.

It is evident that suicide touches many individuals. After a suicide, it is not uncommon for some individuals to experience guilt and blame for not recognizing the warning signs or taking a proactive role in preventing the individual from committing suicide. Debriefing is imperative! School personnel should be afforded the opportunity to discuss their emotions and reactions with trained personnel.

More on Helping Students Deal with Crises.

Excerpted from Disruption, Disaster, and Death: Helping Students Deal with Crises.

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