The high-profile suicide deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain opened up a national conversation about suicide. This is a scary topic for parents — one too often spoken about in whispered tones.
The facts are clear. Suicide is a serious health issue that affects our children and our schools.
According to the CDC’s 2015 data, 17% of students in grades 9 to 12 report having seriously considered suicide, and 8% report having attempted suicide one or more times in the past 12 months. As always, these averages conceal significant differences. Suicides are more common for male students than for female students, though surveys indicate that girls consider it at a higher rate than boys do. Youth suicide rates are lower in California than in the US as a whole.
We can learn to recognize and respond to the warning signs of suicide, not only in our children and teens, but in our friends and our children’s friends, too.
Look and listen for any of these warning signs:
If you see signs that your child or someone you know might be depressed or thinking about suicide, take them seriously.
It might be hard, but try to begin a conversation. The Know the Signs website provides advice on how to get that conversation started. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, open 24/7, provides free and confidential support for people in distress as well as prevention and crisis resources.
Ask if they are considering suicide. Listen, express concern, reassure. Keep them safe. Remove access to the means to carry out a suicide. Be prepared with information on how to get help.
If you have a child or friend you are concerned about, let them know that they are not alone and that help is just a call away.
If you feel the situation is critical, take the person to a nearby emergency room or walk-in psychiatric crisis clinic or call 9-1-1.
What does your child’s school do to help students who are experiencing mental health issues? Do you know what resources are available?
California school boards are required to have a suicide prevention policy for schools grade 7 through 12. This policy must look at the needs of high-risk students and provide suicide awareness and prevention training for teachers. Is this happening in your district?
Get your PTA involved. Work with your principal to create a community meeting to share the district policy and discuss how this is implemented at your school. Take a look at the Comprehensive Suicide Prevention Toolkit for Schools to see how other school districts have addressed this issue.
There are many strategies to reduce the risk of suicide and increase resilience and coping skills. Here are some suggestions:
There is a lot of work to do in our schools and communities to remove the stigma surrounding mental health. Let’s support our children and help them support one another so that those experiencing mental health issues are not embarrassed or afraid to seek help.
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