There is no doubt that the pandemic has increased stress for students, teachers, staff, and parents. Stress is directly related to mental health and could lead to suicidal ideation among those already at risk. The positive change is a heightened awareness of mental health conditions. However, there is no change in prevention strategies if schools fail to act on these concerns.
School leaders who integrate mental health into student achievement strategies will take action. Whether or not your district or school already has a suicide prevention plan in place, the learning environment is very different now. It’s too much for a single individual to develop a comprehensive plan, so it makes sense to create a task force to address that topic.
The task force, which may include an administrator, teacher, counselor, school psychologist, nurse, parent, and support staff member, should consider the following issues:
- Emotional well-being
- How to teach help-seeking behavior, coping skills, and problem-solving skills
- Identification of students at risk for suicide
- Suicide risk screening
- Racial and ethnic disparities
- Trauma-informed strategies
- Safety plans, care plans, and telehealth
- Virtual interventions
- Protective factors
- Staff training
- Staff self-care
- Emotional well-being
A positive school culture is a culture of caring. We are all in this together and need to rely on each other for support. You might notice that emotional well-being and connectedness are listed under both students and staff – remember that adults need care too!
There is never enough time to do all the things we should do, but saving lives has to be a priority. Please make time today to assemble your team, schedule a meeting, and get it done!
Many of the topics listed above are addressed in greater detail in a recent article posted by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC); Suicide Prevention in Schools: Strategies for COVID-19.
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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.