Dealing with a suicide death on campus: Tips for managing emotionality

Posted by on August 10, 2015

Suicides of students, staff members and others in the school community present growing challenges to students, counselors, psychologists, administrators, teachers, school-based police and others in the school community. These challenges are intensified when the suicide occurs on campus.

I am very saddened to read several media stories documenting student suicides that have occurred on school grounds this school year. It will be sometime before we can determine if this is a new trend; however, the majority of youth suicides have historically happened after school and at home. The literature stresses that often a family member is in the home at the time and could have possibly stopped the suicide had they noted warning signs.

One has to wonder if the suicide victims who died at school really wanted to be stopped or if they were sending a deeper message about their view of school by where they choose to end their life. A suicide death at school is very traumatic and challenging to manage. The following suggestions are offered for maximizing support and processing efforts in effectively dealing with such a crisis:

  1. Immediately notify police and verify the facts surrounding the death and convene the campus crisis team. Contact the central administration to obtain support and guidance.
  1. Contact the victim’s family and offer assistance. Check to see if the victim had siblings who attend your schools and offer them support and isolate them from the rest of the student body for reuniting with their family.
  1. Recognize that schools have historically often underestimated the magnitude and impact of the crisis and the research suggests that approximately 20% of those exposed to a tragedy will experience significant problems.
  1. Assist the faculty first so that they will be ready to help the students.
  1. Identify those students most likely to be affected. It is expected that close friends of the deceased and those known to be previously suicidal even without having a close relationship with the victim will be the most affected
  1. The typical reactions that students have to a tragedy are the following: sleeping problems and nightmares, worries about the future, regression both behaviorally and academically. Suicidal thoughts will be increased after a suicide as exposure to suicide is a risk factor.
  1. Be truthful and use developmentally appropriate language with students.

For more than a dozen additional tips, read more on our web site page on suicide on school campus.

Dr. Scott Poland

Co-Director of the Suicide and Violence Prevention Office

Nova Southeastern University


Consultant to National School Safety and Security Services

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