Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for youth ages 14-18. During 2019, nearly 20% of students reported having seriously considered suicide, and four out of five individuals who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs. Evidence shows that the earlier we can prevent risk factors and detect warning signs, the better.
We know that Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) such as abuse and neglect are risk factors for suicide. We also know that recognizing warning signs in the classroom and reaching students early can have a profound impact. The most effective suicide prevention takes place upstream — starting with parents followed by educators in the classroom.
Suicide Prevention: A Parent's Role
Parents and household members play a significant role in reducing Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that increase the risk of suicide and self-harming behaviors. There is a powerful relationship between Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and suicidal ideation and attempts. In a National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health spanning 13 years with 9,421 participants, the odds of seriously considering suicide or attempting suicide in adulthood increased more than threefold among those with three or more ACEs.
ACEs are more common than you might realize.
- Over one-third of children in the U.S. have experienced corporal punishment
- 61% of adults have experienced at least one type of ACE
- 30% of Americans experience 2+ ACEs by age 17
Early childhood is a critical developmental period, and parents can have a major impact on their child's lifelong health and well-being. Parenting during the early years can be incredibly challenging, and parenting programs have been shown to be effective public health approaches to reducing child maltreatment.
How Educators Can Help Students in Crisis
Educators are facing a tsunami of mental health concerns as a result of pandemic-related stress. During 2020, the proportion of mental health-related emergency department visits among youth ages 12–17 increased 31% compared with 2019. It's an understatement to say that the events over the last two years have had a profound impact on our youth.
How Can Schools Support Students and Create a Safe, Nurturing Environment?
Students are 21 times more likely to visit school-based health centers for treatment than anywhere else. Unfortunately, less than 3% of public schools meet the recommended mental health clinician-to-student ratio. The presence of school-based mental health providers leads to increased attendance rates, lower rates of suspension and other disciplinary incidents, expulsion, improved academic achievement and career preparation, as well as greater graduation rates. In addition, schools will realize an improvement in overall safety too.
School-employed psychologists, counselors, social workers, and nurses have relationships with students, parents, and fellow staff members. This puts them in an ideal position to help students. In some rural communities, schools may provide the only mental health services in the area. By making mental health services more accessible as part of the fabric of the school system, we can help to decrease stigma and connect students to the support they need, when and where they need it.
Promote Social Emotional Learning
Social emotional learning (SEL) is "the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities, manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain supportive relationships, and make responsible and caring decisions." This evidence-based approach has been linked to numerous positive outcomes tied to suicide prevention, including a decline in student anxiety, behavior problems, and substance use.
Implement Trauma-Informed Training for Schools
Students who have experienced trauma have an increased risk of various psychiatric disorders, including suicidality (which includes suicidal thoughts, suicidal self-harm, and suicide attempts). This is especially prevalent if a student has been a victim of physical or sexual assault. For many students, school is their safe haven—and a place they can go for help. School staff and teachers need more training to better understand the impact of trauma on students and to help implement trauma-informed strategies and policies so that they can better support their students.
Trauma-informed practices have already been put in place in many schools throughout the country as the connection between trauma and behavior has become better understood. In some states, trauma-informed teaching is even required. It's even more important now as students face trauma related to the COVID-19 crisis.
Know How to Recognize and Approach At-Risk Students
While 50% of lifetime cases of mental illness are diagnosed by age 14, many signs may emerge earlier, especially when children are exposed to traumatic life events.
Knowing the signs to look for and how to respond is a critical step in suicide prevention. Recognizing signs of distress is somewhat dependent on age. Early childhood educators may notice a child throwing more temper tantrums, while a high school student could have a drop in grades and attendance.
Additional Resources and Information
If you or someone you know is in distress and needs immediate support, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Understanding the issues concerning suicide and mental health is an important way to take part in suicide prevention, help others in crisis, and change the conversation around suicide.
Talking About Suicide
District Funding for Suicide Prevention Programs
- Suicide Prevention Training Cost: Where Districts Can Secure Funding to Overcome Budget Barriers
- Youth Suicide Prevention Programs by State
- Finding Professional Development on a Shoestring Budget
To learn how Kognito's experiential learning could help your school's suicide prevention efforts, request a personalized product demonstration here.