A positive school culture is the most critical component for effective youth suicide prevention. Think about it – are kids, or for that matter, adults, likely to share their feelings and concerns in an environment where they don’t feel it’s safe to expose their inner conflicts?
To me, a culture of caring is one where everyone feels a sense of connectedness. Students know they can talk to a trusted adult if they’re struggling and that the adult will get them the help and support they need.
Plenty of research supports the fact that personal connections with others reduce stress and encourage coping behaviors. It is also true that connectedness between people reduces the risk of suicidal behavior, whether the connections are with parents and family or friends and colleagues.
It seems simple, but building an environment like that takes time. It also takes buy-in from the school community and a willingness to sustain it over time. What if your school is shrouded in a toxic culture that feels like it’s always been like that? It might seem impossible to try to change it.
But nothing is impossible if you’re willing to put in the effort it takes to change. Start by addressing the negative aspects of the environment and work to heal the damage and build in positive remedies. You can create a culture of caring.
Here are 5 Strategies for developing a school-wide culture of healing. This article targets elementary-age children. That’s where upstream prevention starts. If children learn to understand and share their feelings when they start school and that practice is maintained all the way through high school, that attitude will naturally become part of the school culture.
To learn more about how a culture of caring is integral to suicide prevention in youth, read A Culture of Caring: A Suicide Prevention Guide for Schools (K-12).
A Culture of Caring: A Suicide Prevention Guide for Schools (K-12) was created as a resource for educators who want to know how to get started and what steps to take to create a suicide prevention plan that will work for their schools and districts. It is written from my perspective as a school principal and survivor of suicide loss, not an expert in psychology or counseling. I hope that any teacher, school counselor, psychologist, principal, or district administrator can pick up this book, flip to a chapter, and easily find helpful answers to the questions they are likely to have about what schools can do to prevent suicide.