Understanding Student Suicide in Schools & Prevention Strategies

Growing up isn’t always easy, especially when you’re a young person experiencing so many things for the first time. Not only are kids navigating the trials and tribulations of school, they’re also simultaneously juggling family, social engagements, and their own personal lives.

Consequently, it’s not uncommon for this balancing act to take a toll on a student’s mental health. And if things go from bad to worse, they may even start considering taking their own life.

As a school district, it’s your responsibility to protect students from harm in every shape and form — suicidal behavior included. But exactly how prevalent is student suicide? How many students are at risk? And more importantly, what can staff do to prevent suicide in their school district?

In this blog, we’ll answer those questions and tell you what you need to know about youth suicide prevention.

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Understanding Suicide in K-12 Education

The first thing you need to understand about youth suicide is how it differs from suicidal ideation.

Striclty speaking, suicidal ideation is the mental process that precedes an actual suicide attempt. There are two types of suicidal ideation you should be aware of:

  1. Passive suicidal ideation: This refers to when a student wishes they were dead or that they could die, but doesn’t actually plan to make it happen.
  2. Active suicidal ideation: This refers to when a student is not only thinking about taking their own life, but actively planning on doing it.

In any case, it’s important to get ahead of teen suicide before suicidal ideation devolves into an actual attempt. To do this, let’s take a look at the facts.

The Prevalence of Youth Suicide

When you look at the data, it’s plain to see that suicidal behavior is an emerging crisis among American youth.

  • Researchers from the American College Health Association estimate that the suicide rate for young adults aged 15-24 has tripled since the 1950s.
  • According to the Jason Foundation, an organization dedicated to youth suicide prevention and suicide awareness, more teenagers and young adults die by suicide than cancer, heart disease, AIDS, birth defects, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease put together.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among high school students between the ages of 14 and 18, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC).

Why is Teen Suicide on the Rise?

In truth, there’s no way to blame a single risk factor for the increase in youth suicide. However, it’s clear that the pandemic had a significant impact on student mental health.

CDC data indicates that in the first eight months of the pandemic alone, the number of mental health emergencies — including self-harm, suicidal behavior, and depressive episodes — increased by nearly 25% for children aged 5 to 11 and nearly a third for those 12 to 17.

Pandemic-related school closures disrupted stability in the lives of many students. Suddenly, they faced social isolation, more time around their families, and more time dealing with the potential troubles therein.

Who is at Risk of Suicide?

Verywell reports that the suicide rate is four times higher for males than females, with male deaths making up almost 80% of all suicide deaths in the United States. However, females attempt suicide three times as often as males.

According to the CDC, lesbian, gay, and bisexual kids are about four times more likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual kids. A Black student is also more likely to make a suicide attempt than their Hispanic or white peers.

Risk Factors Your School Should Know About

Youth suicide doesn’t just happen. More often than not, a young person considers taking their own life after experiencing one or more stressors. Although by no means is this an exhaustive list, here are some potential risk factors that could lead to suicidal behavior:

  1. Poor mental health conditions
    Poor mental health is often considered a significant suicide risk, especially for kids. Mental or addictive disorders, such as depression, anxiety, or bipolar disorder, are associated with up to 90% of suicides, according to the Jason Foundation.
  2. Bullying and cyberbullying
    Toxic behaviors like bullying, cyberbullying, and harassment are sometimes linked to a greater risk of suicide. Bullies often harass their victims to the point of self-loathing, which can greatly damage their mental health.
  3. Family stressors
    A family history of mental illness or suicide among immediate family members is known to put kids at greater risk for suicide. Other stressors, such as a sudden familial change or death in the family, also increase suicide risk.
  4. Poor behavioral health
    Alcohol, drugs, and other forms of substance abuse are known to cloud judgment, lower inhibitions, and worsen depression. Substance abuse is associated with at least 50% of suicides, according to the Jason Foundation. Furthermore, suicide is also connected to interpersonal violence. Kids who act out, behave aggressively, or inflict injury to themselves may be suffering from deeper problems that may be a suicide risk.
  5. History of abuse
    A young person is also at greater risk of committing suicide if they have a history of physical or sexual abuse, whether it be at home or somewhere else. At least 40% of youth suicides are associated with a precipitating event, including abuse.

[FREE WEBINAR] How Technology Fits Into Your Student Mental Health and Safety Programs, REGISTER HERE!

Responding to a Student’s Suicide

As difficult as it might be to imagine, there may be a day when your school district has to manage the aftermath of a student suicide. It’s a delicate situation, which means you want your staff to know exactly how to respond.

First, understand that a completed suicide attempt will likely have ripple effects across your school district. Exposure to teen suicide has been shown to increase the risk of suicidal ideation in the rest of the student body, especially for those close to the victim. Therefore, it’s crucial you provide access to the necessary grief management services on campus.

For instance, when you inform the community that a student has passed, be sure to also inform them where they can seek help. Offer them sessions with a mental health professional or school psychologist with the skills to help them through this process.

In the weeks following, provide suicide awareness education to all staff and students. Discuss typical warning signs of suicide so that they know how to spot them. Make sure you’re using careful language to describe suicide and take care not to trigger youth who may be sensitive to the topic.

Suicide Prevention Strategies

The best thing your school district can do to curb the crisis is to start proactively preventing suicide. To do this, you’ll need to know a few suicide prevention strategies.

  1. Social emotional learning (SEL): Teach students to develop emotional intelligence and understand their thoughts and emotions through SEL. This strategy can help youth gain confidence in themselves while also learning how to respect one another.
  2. Positivity: Create a positive school climate where students feel comfortable discussing their emotions openly and aren’t afraid to express themselves.
  3. Access to mental health services: Studies indicate that access to school-based mental health services can help reduce suicide risk among students. To help support schools and students, the American Rescue Plan provides $122 billion to fund mental health, social, emotional, and academic needs.
  4. Technology: Four in five individuals considering suicide leave some sign of their intentions in one way or another. Increasingly, students are doing so using cloud technologies, like Google Workspace or Microsoft 365. By monitoring these domains, you can detect early warning signs of suicide and initiate a proper response.

Let’s examine that last strategy further. How does monitoring the cloud help with suicide prevention? The short answer is simple: a cloud monitoring solution like ManagedMethods can help you identify risk signals before it’s too late.

With this type of platform, you can automatically detect when students are discussing suicide or self-harm, as well as stressors like cyberbullying, violence, or substance abuse. Whether it be in a Google Chat, Doc, or a Onedrive folder, cloud monitoring can pick up on a risk factor and alert your designated staff member. In turn, you can investigate an incident with speed and provide students the help they deserve.

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