Upgrade Your School Suicide Prevention Program By Including The Technology Department

September 23, 2021

Technology can detect crisis signals hidden in school-provided technology

According to the CDC, suicide is the second leading cause of death for children aged 15 to 19 years old. In 2019, nearly 9% of high school students attempted suicide in a one-year period, while nearly 16% made a plan to commit suicide.

Sadly, these stats are nothing new. And the numbers are moving in the wrong direction. Research by Navigate360 shows that between 2009 and 2019:

  • The number of children who seriously considered attempting suicide increased
  • The number of children who made a suicide plan increased
  • The number of children who attempted suicide increased

As students’ digital and physical lives continue to blend and overlap, your school suicide prevention program needs to adapt. In part, this means that you should consider including someone from the IT department in your task force. They can help determine how technology might be able to help detect students in crisis and improve prevention programs and incident response processes. They can also evaluate different vendor options, and set up new tools to make sure they’re working properly.

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Why IT Should Be Included In Your School Suicide Prevention Program

In order for a suicide prevention program to be successful, you must first be able to identify when a student is in crisis. Educating all district staff members is a big part of a school suicide prevention program, and is a top recommendation among suicide prevention advocates.

While your IT team likely doesn’t have much formal contact with students, they are in a unique position to help spot trouble if they have the tools to monitor school-provided technology. This is because schools are increasingly detecting suicide digital signals in Gmail, Google Docs, chat apps, and shared drives.

Administrators are struggling to ensure that their school suicide prevention program works in the virtual world. Teachers need to work harder to build relationships with students so that they can identify warning signals, but many signs go unnoticed despite best efforts.

IT teams are in a unique position to impact student suicide prevention because they:

  • Understand technology and how it can help
  • Can provide visibility into students’ online communications and behavior
  • Can provide fast and objective information to incident response resources

Your IT team shouldn’t be expected to take direct action with the students. Nor are they uniquely trained to make judgment calls on whether or not a red flag requires immediate action in the way that a counselor is. But, they can use tools to detect risk signals in school-provided technology that will quickly send a notification to the proper building resources.

Advances in artificial intelligence (AI) self-harm monitoring technology more specifically identify cries for help with fewer false positives. This helps protect students’ privacy and saves time. It also means that your response task force is better able to focus on students who truly need their help.

For example, compared to keyword matching, AI can:

  • Better understand the context of a sentence to distinguish between “If I don’t get asked to prom I’ll die,” and “I just want to die”
  • Distinguish between “I want to die’ vs “I don’t want to die”
  • Learn over time and get better at spotting signals with fewer false positives and removing biases

What Monitoring Technology Should Look For

Research shows that students will talk about suicidal thoughts, but they also use digital media such as social networking sites, blog posts, instant messages, text messages, and emails. We work with many school administrators who are finding a variety of digital signals in district Google and Microsoft domains.

[FREE WEBINAR] Student Cyber Safety in Schools. REGISTER HERE >>

Here are five digital signals that your IT team can look for.

  1. Cyberbullying signals: Spotting cyberbullying is critical because students who are being bullied are twice as likely to harm themselves.
  2. Self-Harm signals: While self-harm and suicide are different, a student who harms themselves are often on the road to suicidal behavior.
  3. Depression and anxiety signals: Research shows that most students who attempt suicide are depressed.
  4. Excessive online browsing: Students who are depressed often spend unreasonable amounts of time browsing the web to find bad things happening or to immerse themselves in violent content.
  5. Survey responses: Experts are suggesting the use of Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) curricula to improve students’ overall wellbeing. Daily surveys can help students communicate how they are feeling.

There is no “one size fits all” approach to preventing suicide. Every person is different, and the contributing factors to their pain are different. Ultimately, the best resource for helping students in crisis are the trusted people in their life. They could be their parents, siblings, friends, coach, teacher, or therapist. Professionals who are trained in child psychology and counseling are the best resources for helping a student in need.

Adding technology support to your school suicide prevention program can help give those people in a students’ life the extra information and time they need to save a life.

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