Suicide is a complex and challenging topic.
It can affect us deeply and even talking about it can be confronting.
In this animation we’re going to talk about suicide simply and directly, and outline practical things that schools can do to help prevent and respond to it.
If you or your school community has been impacted by a recent suicide, we encourage you to reach out to the available online and national phone support services.
If we just step back and look at the data, suicide is not that common amongst teenagers; most of the suicides in Australia occur over the age of 20.
But suicide is the leading cause of death of among Australian teens, so it’s important to take action. And straightforward actions at school can make a huge difference. As a school staff member, you know your students.
You know what is usual behaviour for this student as opposed to that student. You might know who’s experienced some kind of personal change or upheaval… or who has risk factors elsewhere in their lives. You have a good chance of noticing important changes in a student’s emotions or behaviour—whether it’s something big and obvious like talking about taking their own life, or something more subtle like withdrawing from their normal social contact.
If you notice something that gives you a gut feeling of concern, then you need to have a conversation with the student or get someone to help who can.
Of course, it may not be easy to talk about suicide. You could be thinking what if I’m wrong? What if I make it worse? But you can’t go wrong by expressing care and concern for another person.
It might help you to realise that the student is probably feeling distressed—and they may be frustrated that they can’t clearly explain what’s going on.
But by having a thoughtful conversation you can start to understand what is happening for the student and maybe identify the support they need. This could be from school or healthcare professionals, and it could immediate or provided over time.
If you can do this—if you can just notice students who are at-risk, and get them into professional support where needed—then you’ve played a valuable role. It’s really important to realise, though, that schools and staff are just one of many influences in a student’s life. Despite even your best efforts, factors outside your control might mean that a student could end their life.
For this reason, it’s important to have a post-suicide plan in place for your school. There are support services that can help you to put together a plan of this sort.
Finally, preventing suicide isn’t just about intervening when students are at risk. Using a framework like MindMatters can help you boost long term protective factors for all your students.
So what is your school’s approach to suicide prevention? How does your school help students learn to cope, and reach out when they need support?