My Student Needs Help

What Can School Personnel Do?

As school staff, you are well-positioned to observe students’ behavior. You might have more day-to-day interactions with students than they do with their own families. It is therefore very important that you learn the warning signs, so that you may help a student who may be at risk for suicide.

Warning Signs

Warning signs vary from person to person. In general, any sudden or dramatic change affecting a student’s performance, attendance, or behavior should be taken seriously. Below are some common warning signs that may signal risk:

  • Talking about wanting to die or to kill oneself

  • Talking about feeling hopeless, helpless, or having no reason to live

  • Talking about being a burden on others

  • Lack of interest in usual activities

  • An overall decline in grades

  • Decrease in effort

  • Misconduct in the classroomUnexplained or repeated absence or truancy

  • Acting out or aggression

  • Unexplained or repeated absence or truancy

  • Excessive tobacco smoking or drinking, or drug (including cannabis) misuse

  • Incidents leading to police involvement and student violence

  • Sudden change in appearance, whether positive or negative

  • Giving away prized possessions

Next Steps

If you notice any significant changes or concerning behaviors, your role is to gather information and get help.

  • Ask Questions. Contrary to belief, asking someone about suicide does not increase their risk. Instead, a person in distress is often relieved when someone asks directly about concerns. Ask questions like:
    • I’ve noticed you are going through a rough time right now. Do you feel like giving up? What does giving up mean to you?
    • Are you thinking about killing yourself?
  • Be Persistent. A student may become upset or deny that they are having difficulties. Be consistent and be sure that your student gets the help they need.
  • Do Not Keep Secrets. Do not promise confidentiality to a student when it comes to issues regarding the child’s safety.
  • Be Prepared. Learn your school’s procedures for responding to suicide risk, and help the student understand them. Typically, procedures involve the following steps:
    • Walk the student up to the school counseling department
    • Make an introduction between the student and counselor or social worker
    • Relay concerns about the student’s behaviors or disclosure
    • If the student has disclosed suicidal intent, do not let the student leave them alone
    • The counseling or administrative team will alert guardians and make arrangements to have the student evaluated by a crisis team or obtain additional mental health services as appropriate