Suicide in Youth
Impact on the Schools
Suicide is a leading cause of adolescent death
An adolescent commits suicide every two hours in America
In 1997, 11.4 per 100,000 youths committed suicide (CDC data)
Suicide claims more adolescents than any disease or natural cause
Adolescent male suicide tripled between 1960 and 1980
Female suicide increased 2-3 fold
Attempts and Completion
About 23 attempts for every completed suicide
One in 10 attempters goes on to a completed suicide later.
Girls make more attempts
Boys use more lethal methods and have more completed suicides
Why the Increase in Suicides?
Possible Contributing Factors
Increased divorce rate
Less family stability
Increased drug use
Ready availability of firearms
Increase in the incidence of childhood depression
Risk factors for suicide include:
Previous suicide attempts
Close family member who has committed suicide.
Past psychiatric hospitalization
Recent losses: Death of a relative, a family divorce, or a breakup with a girlfriend
Social isolation: The individual does not have social alternatives or skills to find alternatives to suicide
Suicide Risk Factors II
Drug or alcohol abuse: Drugs decrease impulse control. Some attempt to self-medicate their depression with drugs or alcohol.
Exposure to violence in the home or the social environment: The individual sees violent behavior as a viable solution to life problems.
Handguns in the home, especially if loaded.
Two Types of Suicidal Youth
May have Conduct Disorder,
Oppositional Defiant Disorder or AD/HD
Often using drugs
History of impulsive aggression towards others
May or may not be depressed.
Suicidal behavior may be carefully planned and thought out.
Peer Support: Pros and Cons
Adolescents may try to deal with suicidal friends by themselves
This may delay effective treatment
If there is a suicide, the friends are left with overwhelming guilt.
What Peers Can Do
Learn the warning signs of depression and suicidal thoughts
Tell a trusted adult
Support the friend
Preoccupation with death and dying.
Signs of depression
Warning Signs II
Giving away special possessions
Making arrangements to take care of unfinished business
Difficulty with appetite and sleep
Taking excessive risks
Increased drug use
Loss of interest in usual activities
What Can the School Do?
Decrease social factors associated with suicide
Identify vulnerable teens early
Dealing with the suicidal student at school
Have a protocol in place in advance
Assess the degree of risk
Extreme risk-student holding lethal items
High risk-student expresses acute suicidal thoughts or plans
Moderate risk-student has suicidal ideation but is not acutely suicidal.
Communication between members of crisis team.
Protect yourself and the student: Have a telephone nearby.
Team and administration meet to debrief after the incident
Keep parents informed
Postvention: After a Suicide
School should have a plan in place
Administration gets as much information as possible
Crisis team meets with teachers to inform them
Teachers talk to students.
Be sure that all students get the same message.
Crisis team present in school
Students and staff are told that they can meet with counselors
Staff identifies vulnerable students
Dealing with Media
Policy in place in advance
Designated contact person
Why talk to the media
Help media avoid sensationalization and reduce chance of contagion.
Supporting students with suicidal thoughts
Listen actively. Teach problem-solving skills
Encourage positive thinking. Instead of saying that he cannot do something, he should say that he will try.
Help the student write a list of his or her good qualities.
Supporting the suicidal student II
Help the student set up a step-by-step plan to achieve his goals.
Give the student opportunities for success. Give as much praise as possible
Talk to the family so that they can understand how the student is feeling.
Student might benefit from assertiveness training
Supporting the Student III
Helping others may raise oneís self-esteem.
Get the student involved in positive activities in school or in the community.
If appropriate, involve the studentís religious community.
Make up a contract with rewards for positive and new behaviors.