Youth Suicide Prevention and the Competent School Community.

Data show that many students think about suicide, many are exposed to it when someone they know attempts or completes suicide, and almost half of students who seriously consider suicide suffer in silence, not sharing their thoughts with anyone.  My previous post,, highlighted the importance of implementing a comprehensive suicide prevention program in schools.  Although it is beyond the scope of this blog to discuss or endorse specific programs, the foundational elements for a comprehensive approach are well known.

The best way for schools to bring the issue of suicide to light and reduce the risk is to create a school ecology that is conducive to supporting and promoting well-being among students – in other words, to develop, support, and promote a competent school community.  Within this environment, the overarching goal of the school is the prevention of self-destructive behavior.  This means that all members of the school community are concerned about each other’s welfare, everyone knows where to get help for themselves and others, and everyone is encouraged to take action when needed.

A school that is focused on suicide prevention creates a resilient and safe social environment for students.  It does not tolerate behaviors such as bullying and sexual harassment/assault.  It is alert to the danger of a culture of fear and secrets among students and has no policies or administrative structures that might foster such a culture.

To establish a competent school community, the school provides education and awareness training for the stakeholders – school leaders, faculty and staff, parents, and students.  The key responsibilities for each stakeholder component are as follows:

School leaders: Maintain focus on the welfare and safety of the student body; recognize that a proactive approach can forestall problems; establish a zero-tolerance policy for bullying, violence, and self-harming behaviors.

Faculty: Commit to enhancing the life skills of students; be receptive to self-learning about youth suicide statistics and prevention.

Parents: Become aware of dimensions of youth suicide; require and appreciate accurate information to facilitate effective decision-making about their children

Students: Respond to practical, action-oriented behavior alternatives; seek help for themselves and others.

In closing, it is necessary to recognize the realities of suicide prevention efforts in schools.  The role of schools in suicide prevention is limited by the fact that they do not and cannot function as mental health care facilities.  However, the maximum possible engagement of schools in this effort is essential because of the profound impact of suicide and attempted suicide on the school community.  And suicide prevention is certainly within the mandate for schools to provide students with a safe environment where the primary focus is on learning.  Providing and enhancing opportunities for learning is only possible within a competent school community. where all stakeholders are looking out for the welfare of all members of the community.


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