Learning First Alliance

Strengthening public schools for every child

Suicide Prevention in Schools

NEA Healthy Futures's picture

By Libby Nealis, Behavioral Health Consultant, NEA Health Information Network

, NEA Health Information Network

When suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth as young as 10 through age 19, it is crucial that our school districts have proactive suicide prevention policies in place.

Anytime we lose a young person to suicide is one time too many.  Tragically, most of today’s school shootings end not only in injury and death of innocent students and school staff, but also in the ultimate self-inflicted gun shots and suicide of the perpetrators of these violent events.  Therefore, our efforts to reduce school and community violence and ensure student and staff safety in our schools must also include an understanding of suicide prevention and what is involved in the identification and referral of students at risk of suicide. 

NEA strongly encourages members to include suicide prevention, alertness, and intervention and postvention programs in the ongoing professional development and educator preparation programs for teachers, education support professionals, and specialized instructional support personnel, including school mental health service providers. Educators should familiarize themselves with the suicide prevention resources and information available to school personnel. The NEA Health Information Network has compiled these educator-friendly resources on their website to ensure access to this information. 
According to the latest (2010) data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), suicide is the second leading cause of death for young people ages 10-24 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2012). According to the 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey, more than 1 in 7 high school students in the U.S. reported having seriously considered attempting suicide in the 12 months preceding the survey, and 7.8% of students (about 1 in 13) reported having attempted suicide in the preceding 12 months. Children and teens spend a significant amount of their young lives in school.  The school staff and personnel that interact with them on a daily basis are in a prime position to recognize the signs of suicide and make the appropriate referrals for help.  To do this, they will need effective training to acquire the necessary skills and confidence to intervene with youth at-risk.  Required and readily available training is one way to ensure that all school personnel have a baseline understanding of suicide risk and the referral process.
In addition to educators and school leaders, school-based mental health professionals such as counselors, social workers, and psychologists are essential to implementing policies and practices to strengthen a safe and healthy school environment, identify students who may be at risk of suicide, and immediately intervene.  Tragically, many of the recent incidences of school violence are perpetrated by individuals who ultimately intended to commit suicide (and often succeed).  Therefore, effective suicide prevention is an essential component of any violence prevention effort.  In general, suicide prevention practitioners will achieve greater results by creating comprehensive approaches involving multiple layers of coordinated components, including linking students and families in need of services with community resources. 
More information and numerous resources are available from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), and the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration.

Image by Meneerke bloem (Own work) [GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons