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HomeYouth Suicide

If the Worst Happens, What Can Be Done?

Even though youth suicide is a rare event, it does happen. The statistics tell us that each year approximately 2,000 students aged 10 to 19 die by suicide. The numbers also tell us that almost 10 percent of high school students admit to making a suicide attempt in the last year.

'Postvention'

The word postvention was coined in the mid-1970s by Edwin Shneideman, one of the pioneers in the field of suicide prevention.

It stands in contrast to the terms prevention and intervention and describes the specific crisis response in the aftermath of (or post) a death by suicide.

Postvention often incorporates both prevention and intervention. This is especially the case when dealing with youth suicide because there is such a grave risk of copy-cat behavior or imitation in this aged population.

What is the school's role in postvention?

Regardless of the circumstance of the death, the role of the school remains critical but limited:

  • To maintain the structure and order of school routine
  • To manage reactions to the death with appropriate and supportive interventions
  • To provide resources and support to the school community to recognize and minimize suicide-contagion risk

The following is a brief outline of the roles of the key players in postvention:

School Administrator

The school administrator's leadership and direction set the course for the practical implementation of the postvention process. Roles and responsibilities include:

  • Verify information about the circumstances of the death
  • Obtain information about the deceased and his or her family
  • Contact school-based resources (crisis team)
  • Contact relevant community partners
  • Contact family of the deceased
  • Implement rumor-control procedure
  • Maintain open channels of communication with crisis team
  • Stay informed about media coverage and respond as necessary
  • Access additional resources as necessary

Crisis Team

Members of the crisis team are the first responders, guiding the school in both the initial and longer-term response strategy. The responsibilities of the crisis team are to:

  • Implement the board-approved crisis plan by providing control, support, structure, and direction to the school in the immediate aftermath of the suicide.
  • Determine if there are any longer-term needs in the aftermath of the death and assist in the development of a plan to address those needs.

Faculty/Staff

Teachers and other school staff members are often the first adults to whom students turn for support.
Their responsibilities are to:

  • Receive information about the death, the school's response plan, and their role in it
  • Have the opportunity to express reactions and ask questions
  • Be prepared for student reactions
  • Receive guidance in structuring school activities
  • Be involved in identification of vulnerable students
  • Receive information about school and community resources
  • Be provided with immediate and continuing support

Students

The death of a peer can really confront teens with their personal mortality. For all of us, knowing that someone our own age has died is an uncomfortable reminder of our own future. But for teens, it is a painful, unsettling reality that can stop them in their tracks. The students' needs are to:

  • Receive limited information about the death
  • Receive guidance for responding to rumors
  • Have designated places for personal reflection
  • Receive reminders about their role in the competent community
  • Receive information about school, community, and web-based resources
  • Be prepared for funeral attendance

Parents/Guardians

Parents and guardians often need education and direction to help them manage their children's reactions to the death. Their needs are to:

  • Receive information about the death
  • Be updated about the school's response
  • Have access to school support (phone, website, small meetings)
  • Receive information to help them prepare for their children's reactions
  • Be provided with suggestions for handling these reactions
  • Receive information about community resources

Community

Community partners are the natural extensions of the school. They reflect the other dimensions of students' lives --  the places they go, the people they spend time with, the things they do when school is not in session. This larger community provides its children with a sense of safety and security, belonging and meaning, and is really an essential component in their recovery after the death of a peer. The needs of the community are to:

  • Receive information about the death
  • Be informed and updated about the school's response plan
  • Receive information about the most affected populations within the school who may need community support
  • Be given direction on providing support to the school
  • Receive input on needed community support resources
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Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 800-273-8255
Postvention Curriculum

Lifelines Postvention: Responding to Suicide and Other Traumatic Death
Lifelines Postventioneducates everyone in the school community on how to successfully address and respond to not only suicide, but any type of traumatic death that profoundly affects the school population.

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