You already know that schools play a vital role in suicide prevention. However, many educators either don’t know what they should do or prefer to assume that suicide only happens to other people and will never affect them personally. Some school districts maintain robust prevention programs, while others require only that teachers complete a brief online training program once every three years.
JED isn’t a person, but an organization dedicated to helping young men and women. A national nonprofit, JED focuses on suicide prevention and caring for youth mental health. The Jed Foundation (JED) and AASA, The School Superintendents Association, recently announced a multiyear initiative to develop and deploy a comprehensive approach to mental health and suicide prevention for school districts.
JED’s guidance for high schools focuses on seven overarching themes:
- Developing life skills
- Promoting social connectedness
- Encouraging help-seeking behaviors
- Improving recognition of signs of distress
- Access to mental health care
- Establishing crisis management procedures
- Promoting the importance of keeping lethal and dangerous items away from children
Unlike most suicide prevention programs, JED doesn’t just provide guidance. Through their partnership with AASA, JED staff will identify 15 school districts to work with. Programs will be based on each district’s individual needs and monitored and evaluated for three years.
The Comprehensive Approach to Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention for High Schools lists the following guiding principles as the foundation of their model.
- Promoting emotional health and overall well-being and providing needed mental health and substance misuse treatment in adolescence enhances educational outcomes, health outcomes, social connections, and long-term life outcomes.
- Promoting student emotional health and well-being and facilitating individual access to needed mental health and substance misuse treatment must be a shared and primary value for the entire school community. The school community includes school and district staff, educators, families, students, and leadership. School mental health and health professionals cannot accomplish this important work alone.
- Many high schools are working to support emotional health and well-being, but efforts often are implemented in siloes and without coordination and collaboration. The use of evaluation and strategic planning can serve to make actions more coordinated, more efficient, more effective, and more sustainable.
- Adolescents bring diverse sociocultural identities to school, and well-documented inequities place some students in marginalized and underserved groups at increased risk for emotional distress and suicidality. To equitably and effectively promote student mental health and reduce risk, schools must take special care to learn about and plan for the needs of students whose identities or challenges may expose them to heightened psychological risk.
- Schools cannot do this work alone. Enduring, systemic change requires partnership, technical assistance, and resources.
You Have Options
Obviously, if only 15 school districts are selected to participate in this initiative, chances are yours won’t be one of them. But you can study and follow JED’s model to develop or improve your district’s suicide prevention plans. The content below is included in JED’s Comprehensive Approach to Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention for High Schools.
First, assemble an Interdisciplinary Team
Form an interdisciplinary implementation team. The team is formed with a focus on representing all aspects of the school community, including district and building leadership, staff, educators from major academic areas, coaches, students, family members, school health, mental health, and counseling professionals, and any other group of key stakeholders (e.g., community or church leaders) who can contribute substantively to the process. The team’s role is to complete a baseline evaluation and then build, oversee, and champion the strategic plan.
NOTE: You will need to partner with a local suicide prevention organization that can provide guidance. If you don’t know who to go to in your community, check with your state department of education or contact your state or territory prevention lead.
Next, conduct a Baseline Needs Evaluation
The baseline evaluation aligns with the seven Core Domains of The High School Comprehensive Approach listed above. Evaluation minimally includes an organizational assessment, completed by the interdisciplinary implementation team, a student survey, and any key demographic or evaluative findings the school collects routinely. Variables assessed include student demographics, social and emotional health status, help-seeking behaviors, and the alignment of current school policy and programming with current best practices in support of the Core Domains. Schools are encouraged to conduct focus groups with students, families, and staff to augment quantitative evaluation findings and elevate student and family voices.
Then, get ready to take Focused Action
The interdisciplinary implementation team, with support from your suicide prevention partners, uses baseline evaluation information to collaboratively build a vision of what specific goals are needed within each Core Domain. Choose or enhance policies, programs, activities, and resources to support those goals, and take the necessary actions to progress toward the goals.
Conduct Ongoing Evaluation
The strategic plan should include methods for evaluating the impact of actions on progress toward plan goals. How will the interdisciplinary team know what is working and what is not? The interdisciplinary team is tasked with examining the impact and adjusting actions to improve.
NOTE: Without the Jed Foundation providing technical assistance to support this process, you will need to rely on self-evaluation and support from your suicide prevention partners.
This article is a brief summary of the JED Foundation/ AASA model. Delve deeper by reviewing the entire document: The Comprehensive Approach to Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention for High Schools.
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.