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 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
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