Suicide Prevention Education and Awareness

January 1999 – Revised February 2015 – Health and Family Engagement

PTA members’ long standing concern about suicide prevention was formalized by the adoption of the 1983 convention resolution “Suicide Prevention Education and Awareness.” These guidelines are to assist unit, council and district PTAs in the implementation of the resolution.

The purpose of this guideline is to provide a roadmap for PTA members toward resources that can assist them in the development and implementation of activities and programs concerning suicide prevention focusing in the home, school, and community.

PTA’s focus is on youth and statistics showed nationally that in 2009:

  • 13.8% of students in grades 9-12 seriously considered suicide in the previous 12 months (17.4% of females and 10.5% of males).
  • 6.3% of students reported making at least one suicide attempt in the previous 12 months (8.1% of females and 4.6% of males).
  • 1.9% of students had made a suicide attempt that resulted in an injury, poisoning, or an overdose that required medical attention (2.3% of females and 1.6% of males).

In 2014, the CDC reported that 60% of high school students claimed that they had thought about committing suicide, and around 9% of them said that they tried killing themselves at least once. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL):

  • 19.3% of high school students have seriously considered killing themselves
  • 14.5% of high school students made actual plans for committing suicide
  • 900,000 youth planned their suicides during an episode of major depression

Suicide is the third leading cause of death among 15 to 24-year-olds. Even more disturbing is the fact that suicide is the fourth leading cause of death for children between the ages of 10 and 14. More people survive suicide attempts than actually die. However, they are often seriously injured and need medical care. Our goal, then, is to stop suicide attempts.

(The citation for the statistics referenced above is: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention National Center for Injury Prevention and Control Data Sheet)

The California Department of Education’s Health Framework for California Public Schools, adopted in 2002, outlines a course of study with two factors central to its new approach to health education; emphasis placed on developing lifelong, positive health-related attitudes and behaviors and health education supported by a comprehensive schoolwide system to promote children’s health, developed and sustained through collaborative efforts of school personnel, parents, school board members, community leaders, and health and social services agencies and providers.

The Health Framework for California Public Schools recognizes that an important element of mental and emotional health is a positive view of one’s self and a sense of a relationship to others. The Framework encourages students:

  • To take pride in their personal identity,
  • To view self-esteem as being based not only on one’s accomplishments, but also on personal values and ethical considerations,
  • To make healthy decisions, and
  • To refuse to take part in negative behaviors without the fear of rejection.

In order for parents to engage in efforts to prevent suicide attempts, it is useful to become familiar with some of the characteristics associated with suicide, which may or may not be direct causes. There are several different factors that may lead a teenager to take his or her life, but the most common is depression. Feelings of hopelessness and anxiety, along with feelings of being trapped in a life that one can’t handle, are very real contributors to teen suicide. In some cases, teenagers believe that suicide is the only way to solve their problems. The pressures of life seem too much to cope with, and some teenagers look at suicide as a welcome escape.

Risk Factors:

  • Divorce of parents
  • Violence in the home
  • Death of someone close to the teenager
  • Family history of suicide
  • Family history of child maltreatment
  • Previous suicide attempt(s)
  • The suicide of a friend or someone he or she “knows” online
  • History of mental disorders, particularly clinical depression
  • History of alcohol and substance abuse
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Rejection by friends or peers
  • Impulsive or aggressive tendencies
  • Cultural and religious beliefs (e.g., belief that suicide is noble resolution of a personal dilemma)
  • Local epidemics of suicide
  • Isolation, a feeling of being cut off from other people
  • Inability to find success at school
  • Barriers to accessing mental health treatment
  • Loss (relational, social, work or financial)
  • Physical illness
  • Easy access to lethal methods
  • Unwillingness to seek help because of the stigma attached to mental health and substance abuse disorders or to suicidal thoughts

It is important to be on the lookout for signs that your teen may attempt suicide. What is so difficult about some of these warning signs of teen suicide is that some of them are similar to normal adolescent behavior. The teenage years are a trying time, and sometimes normal behavior looks a lot like possibly destructive behavior. But it doesn’t hurt to look into the following warning signs of teen suicide:

  • Talks about death and/or suicide (maybe even with a joking manner)
  • Plans ways to kill him or herself
  • Expresses worries that nobody cares about him or her
  • Has attempted suicide in the past
  • Dramatic changes in personality and behavior
  • Withdraws from interacting with friends and family
  • Shows signs of depression
  • Shows signs of a substance abuse problem
  • Begins to act recklessly and engage in risk-taking behaviors
  • Begins to give away sentimental possessions
  • Spends time online interacting with people who glamorize suicide and maybe even form suicide pacts

Protective factors buffer individuals from risks such as suicidal thoughts and behavior:

  • Effective clinical care for mental, physical, and substance abuse disorders
  • Easy access to a variety of clinical interventions and support for help seeking
  • Family and community support (Connectedness)
  • Support from ongoing medical and mental health care relationships
  • Skills in problem solving, conflict resolutions, and nonviolent ways of handling disputes. (Youth Development and Resiliency)
  • Cultural and religious beliefs that discourage suicide and support instincts for self-preservation

It is important to treat your child with respect and understanding. Show your unconditional love, and offer emotional support. It is important that a teen considering suicide feel loved and wanted. Show your teenager that it is possible to overcome life’s challenges, and make sure that he or she knows that you are willing to help out.

Youth Development is the name of an approach that focuses on building youths’ assets rather than repairing their deficits. Youth development strategies help most young people, including those challenged by multiple risks and adversities, to grow into thriving adults.

School connectedness means that students have a sense of belonging at school and perceive that teachers are fair and care about them. A study of 20,000 students in grades 7-12 found that school connectedness was the only school-related factor that consistently protected students from engaging in unhealthy behaviors.

Developmental assets include those relating to the individual and those relating to his or her environment. A study involving more than 99,000 students in grades 6-12 investigated the role of 40 developmental assets in protecting adolescents from a variety of health-compromising behaviors.

Research on resilience identifies caring relationships, messages of high expectations, and opportunities for participation and contribution as factors supporting positive youth development. The presence of a committed caregiver, a broad community support system, and engaging social skills were the three most powerful predictors that children at risk would grow up to be healthy, functioning adults.

Suicide prevention plans at public schools can involve the support of families, schools, and communities working together as part of a comprehensive Coordinated School Health system that considers resiliency, and youth development assets in pursuit of the goal of preventing suicide attempts.

Exemplary school-based prevention programs take the following steps:

  • Enlist the support of administration.
  • Advocate for a school district wide suicide-prevention policy.
  • Institute training for faculty and all school staff, which includes intervention and aftermath approaches.
  • Institute a school crisis response team.
  • Institute parent/guardian education regarding youth suicide.
  • Institute community “gatekeeper” training.
  • Implement skills training and social support programs for students.
  • Implement school activities that increase students’ connection to the school.
  • Develop supportive school-community partnerships.

A coordinated school health system includes health education, physical education, health services, nutrition services, psychological and counseling services, a safe and healthy school environment, health promotion for staff, and parent and community involvement. The system is designed to protect and promote the health and well being of students and staff. One way parents can get involved is by serving on School Health/Wellness Councils.

Resources

Health Framework for California Public Schools, adopted by the California Board of Education 2002; http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/suicide

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance—United States, 2009. Surveillance Summaries, June 4. MMWR 2010; 59 (No. SS-5); http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/ss/ss5905.pdf

U.S. Public Health Service. The surgeon general’s call to action to prevent suicide. Washington (DC): US Department of Health and Human Services; 1999; http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/calltoaction/calltoaction.pdf

American Association of Suicidology. Youth Suicide Fact Sheet; http://www.suicidology.org/web/guest/stats-and-tools/fact-sheets

Search Institute, The Banks Building 615 First Avenue NE, Suite 125 Minneapolis, MN 55413; www.search-institute.org

Getting Results: Developing Safe and Healthy Kids; www.gettingresults.org

California State PTA Convention Resolution – Student Substance Abuse: Alternatives to Zero Tolerance – 2003

Youth Suicide-Prevention Guidelines for California Schools – 2005; http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/cg/mh/documents/suicideprev.doc

Youth Suicide Prevention Resources, California Department of Education; www.cde.ca.gov/ls/cg/mh/suicideprevres.asp

Health Framework for California Public Schools – Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve; http://www.cde.ca.gov/ci/cr/cf/documents/healthfw.pdf

What is Coordinated School Health? – California Department of Education; http://www.cde.ca.gov/ls/he/cs/csh.asp

A Guide to Community School Health Councils – American Cancer Society;
http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/MoreWaysACSHelpsYouStayWell/SchoolHealth/SchoolHealthCouncils/guide-to-community-school-health-councils-pdf

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration; http://www.samhsa.gov

Resources for Suicide Prevention at: www.mentalhealth.gov with Spanish-language resources at: http://espanol.mentalhealth.gov/index.html

Print Friendly