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Suicide Prevention, Intervention & Postvention in Schools
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  1. Suicide Prevention, Intervention & Postvention in Schools An Overview for School Leaders

  2. Suicide is a difficult topic… Most of us have been touched, professionally and/or personally, by suicideImportant to support one another as we approach this topic today….and in days followingNo scheduled breaks, come and go as is right for youIf you would like to talk to someone, we are available to help.

  3. Context for the presentation • This presentation targets the School Mental Health Leadership Team • It is designed to: • Build common understanding about suicide amongst school mental health leaders • Highlight helpful prevention, intervention and postvention strategies • Provide recommendation actions for consideration at the school level

  4. Session Outline • Brief Overview of Suicide in Children and Youth • Suicide Prevention, Intervention & Postvention Strategies • Issues for School Leaders • Recommended Actions for the MH Leadership Team • Roles and Protocols (mh leadership team, school administration, critical incident response team) • Strategies (early identification and treatment of mental health problems, youth engagement, community culture building) • Capacity-Building (information dissemination, gatekeeper training)

  5. Brief Overview Child and youth suicide

  6. Suicidal behaviour • Non-Suicidal Self-Injury • a deliberate attempt to cause injury to one’s body without the conscious intent to die • Suicidal Ideation • Suicidal thoughts that include both contemplating death by suicide and planning actions that could result in death • Suicide Attempt • self-harming behaviour that includes an intention to die • Death by Suicide • self-harming behaviour that results in death

  7. Facts and Figures • 2nd leading cause of death after accidents, accounting for 17.3- 20.4% of adolescent mortality (but important to put this in context, death is relatively uncommon in this age group) • 1.4% of all suicides occur in children under 14 years of age • Death by suicide is more prevalent in males than females aged 15-19 • Recent Canadian epidemiological study shows overall stable rates of suicide over the past 30 years, but trends are changing: decreasing rates for males and increasing rates for females (Skinner & McFaull, 2012)

  8. The complexity of Risk Protective Factors

  9. Vulnerabilities - self • Mental illness (e.g., mood, anxiety, conduct disorders) • Past suicidal behavior • Substance use • Unstable mood, high impulsivity • Rigid thinking or coping patterns • Poor physical health / chronic illness NOTE: These risk factors are correlational and not causal; typically it is a compounding of risk factors that is associated with suicidal behavior.

  10. Vulnerabilities - home • Family history of suicides / attempts • Parental mental illness • Alcohol / substance abuse in the home • History of violence and/or abuse • Divorce, separation, other losses, death • Tension and aggression between parents • Parental lack of time; rejection; neglect NOTE: These risk factors are correlational and not causal; typically it is a compounding of risk factors that is associated with suicidal behavior.

  11. Vulnerabilities – school/community • Learning problems • Disengagement from school • Lack of connectedness • Marginalization • Discontinuity in identity (cultural, language, gender, sexual) • Some communities are at heightened vulnerability (e.g., aboriginal, LGBTQ, homeless) • Negative social relationships, including bullying

  12. Bullying and Suicide Increases risk for bullying Victimization Pre-existing vulnerability • New or Exacerbated: • Anxiety • Depressed mood • Diminished self-worth • Feelings of entrapment • Loneliness • Withdrawal • Sleep/eating problems • Hopelessness Which are risk factors for: Suicidal ideation Suicide attempt Death by suicide Adapted Lenny Berman 2010 Bullying and Suicide 8doc.webinar American Association of Suicidology

  13. Triggers • Break up with boy/girl friend • Conflicts and increased arguments with parents and/or siblings • Loss of close friend • School related difficulties-conflicts with teachers, classmates • Difficulties with the law • Change in parents’ financial status • Serious illness or injury in family member • Real or perceived loss of status

  14. Contagion • Occurs when suicidal behavior influences an increase in the suicidal behavior of others • Multiple suicidal behaviors/suicide deaths that occur within a geographical area or fall within an accelerated time frame may represent a potential cluster • Although clusters are rare, they are most common amongst adolescents

  15. Circles of vulnerability Population at Risk Lahad & Cohen, 2006

  16. The role of cyber/social media • Increasingly there are sites, chat rooms and blogs that promote suicidal ideation • Methods of suicide are discussed on-line and some researchers have suggested that increases in particular methods in recent years may be related to this dialogue • The rapid spread of rumours and details of deaths by suicide is difficult to manage • Paradoxically, social media may hold potential benefits for suicide prevention (Skinner & McFaull, 2012)

  17. The role of media • Media can be helpful or harmful – it is never benign and they cannot view themselves as impartial observers • Contagion (mimicking of suicidal behavior) is a real phenomenon and youth are particularly vulnerable • Media needs to be held accountable for adhering to safe reporting guidelines following a death by suicide • Media can be helpful in bringing awareness to issues of child and youth mental health more broadly

  18. Responding to mass media / social media coverage • Recent weeks have brought us… • A very tragic example of the complexity of suicidal behavior • An illustration of the influence and dangers of social media • Irresponsible media coverage and oversimplification of the issues in much public discourse • Well-intentioned, but potentially harmful, actions • Contagion • A magnification of the need for district and school leadership to ensure student safety

  19. Protective factors • Problem solving, life & communication skills • Sociability • Resilient Personality • A sense of belonging (school, community) • Secure attachment to positive parent/family • Access to other caring & supportive adults • Pro-social peers • Appropriate discipline, limit setting & structure • Opportunities to develop self-esteem • Good Mental Health

  20. Youth suicide is complex and is often the result of many converging factors. The explanations and the solutions are equally complex.

  21. What can we do? • Reduce vulnerabilities - at school • Ensure school is safe and accepting, especially for vulnerable students (enhance sense of belonging, increase connectedness and engagement, show respect for differences) • Build on protective factors • Provide skill-building, opportunities to build esteem, etc. • Look out for triggers • Identify students at risk, listen • Minimize the risk for contagion • Have a plan for help

  22. Strategies for Suicide prevention, intervention, & postvention

  23. First, do no harm • In considering various prevention, intervention, and postvention strategies, the Mental Health Leadership Team needs to understand that this area of work is not benign • Some actions are more effective than others, some are risky, and many have not been evaluated rigorously • This may mean taking a fresh look at existing practices to ensure alignment with the evidence base in this area • Close communication with your senior administration team will be important if practice changes are required

  24. Through this section, Consider… • What is your school doing consistently across the system in suicide prevention, intervention and postvention? • Are these initiatives aligned with the evidence-base?

  25. SCHOOL RESPONSE TO SUICIDE • Four components: • Administrative Foundation, Prevention, Intervention & Postvention

  26. What is Administrative foundation? • The administrative foundation is the support and commitment of the school board, as articulated through the principal, to policies and procedures that address the range of needs presented by students who might be at risk for suicide.

  27. What is Suicide Prevention? Efforts to reduce the risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior amongst students in a systematic way

  28. What is intervention? • Practices involved in recognizing and responding to students with suicidal ideation or behavior • Practices involved in supporting vulnerable students transitioning to and from mental health care

  29. What is postvention? Support for school communities in responding to suspected, attempted, or death by suicide

  30. Helpful Prevention strategies • Safe and accepting school culture • Social emotional learning (coping skills, conflict resolution) • Early identification and treatment of mental health problems • Gatekeeper training • Information dissemination (staff, parents, students)

  31. Prevention Strategies to avoid • There are risks inherent in the following strategies: • Suicide awareness curriculum with students, particularly if done in a single or stand alone lesson(s) (curriculum is best delivered in the context of instruction related to mental health more generally, over a period of several lessons, with a focus on protective factors…after adults have received gatekeeper training) • Assigning suicide as a central or sole focus of study • Large assemblies with guest speakers who talk about suicide • Events that have the potential to glorify/glamorize suicide • Peer counseling related to suicide

  32. Information Dissemination and Gatekeeper training • Different audiences have different knowledge needs • AWARENESS - Classroom teachers can benefit from as little as a 2-hour session that provides information about risk factors, warning signs, and what to do if one of their students appears to be at risk for suicide • LITERACY - More in-depth gatekeeper training can be offered for select individuals in a school who are in a position that makes is more likely that students will approach them for help (e.g., admin team, guidance, student success), and who are willing to provide consultation and support when crises occur • EXPERTISE - School mental health professionals should maintain strong knowledge and skills with respect to suicide assessment and support

  33. Needed Knowledge • For intervention to be successful, basic knowledge about warning signals can be shared with those in a position to notice changes in behavior amongst youth • School staff, parents, students, youth-involved community members • Can be shared in a variety of ways (brochures, workshops, fact sheets, trusted websites, media) • Key warning signals are described here as a handy reference • Note that 100% accurate prediction of suicide is impossible. We can only do our best.

  34. WARNING SIGNALS: Behavioural Loss of interest in former activities Withdrawal from social contact Difficulty concentrating, problems with judgment and memory Dramatic shift in quality of academic performance Feelings of sadness, emptiness and hopelessness, often expressed in written assignments Sleep disturbances These signals also relate to problems in mental health more generally

  35. Strong and overt expressions of anger and rage Excessive use of drugs and/or alcohol Promiscuous behaviour Uncharacteristic delinquent, thrill-seeking behaviour Self-mutilation Occurrence of previous suicidal gestures or attempts Planning for death; making final arrangements; giving away favourite possessions WARNING SIGNALS: BEHAVIOURAL

  36. WARNING SIGNALS: Communication Statements revealing a desire to die, or a preoccupation with death Nihilistic comments: life is meaningless, filled with misery, what’s the use of it all? Verbal or written threats Sudden cheerfulness after prolonged depression may be relief because decision has been taken

  37. Helpful intervention strategies Identification and Referral • Ensure staff aware of warning signals • Ensure clear protocol at school level • Provide immediate and calm support to the student • Ensure safety and supervision • Facilitate assessment and care • Contact parent/guardian • Document actions

  38. Helpful intervention strategies Supporting Vulnerable Students • Ensure staff understand role and limits of competence • Support staff with caring adult role • Identify vulnerable students • Work with clinical staff, when involved • Create a school safety plan for each student, as needed • Implement and monitor plans, as needed

  39. Intervention strategies to avoid • Peer intervention models with inadequate adult supervision and monitoring • Recruitment of gatekeepers who are uncomfortable / unready for the role • Counseling of high risk students by unqualified professionals

  40. Helpful postvention strategies • Understand the phases of postvention • Have a plan for who does what at each phase of postvention • First 24 hours • Next 48-72 hours • During the first month • Planning for the future • Practice deliberate self- and team-care

  41. Working through phases • The accompanying presentation for the School Mental Health Team articulates considerations for the postvention period, through these phases • This difficult work is usually led by the school admin team, with support from the Superintendent, Crisis Response Team, MH leadership team, and corporate communications, as needed • Main message – have a plan for who does what at each phase of postvention

  42. First 24 hours • Verify the death, confirm the facts, talk with the student’s family personally (usually the principal, with support from the Board Team) • Mobilize the critical incident response team • Assess the impact of the death and level of response required • If parents do not wish the suicide to be disclosed, and students are unlikely to find out the cause of death, large scale suicide postvention is not indicated • In contrast, high impact events that will involve media would call for support from the board response team and enacting of postvention protocols • Identify vulnerable students and provide support • Determine what information to share, with whom, how • Inform Superintendent, notify school staff, inform students simultaneously in their classrooms (not through announcements or a large assembly) using prepared scripts • Manage the media, using one designated liaison person with media training (may be a member of the board team)

  43. Next 48-72 hours • Restore school to regular routines • Liaise with bereaved/affected family • Consider involvement with funeral/memorials • Avoid on-campus memorials that could glorify suicide • Monitor staff well-being • Keep school community informed • Involve community partners in postvention support • Document actions

  44. During The first month • Monitor all staff and student well-being • Plan for school events of relevance (year book, award nights, graduation) • Conduct a critical incident review • Consider offering information sessions for parent community with mental health agency • Continue documentation of actions • Response Team Debriefing

  45. Planning for the future • Continue support and monitoring of students and staff • Plan for anniversaries, birthdays and significant events • Implement recommendations from the critical incident review, in consultation with SO and MH Leadership Team • Assess current suicide prevention strategies and enhance as needed • Share the postvention plan with new staff members • Continue to work with community to refine response for future

  46. Media Social Media

  47. Take care of each other • Death by suicide is a special kind of school crisis that impacts us in significant ways, professionally and personally • The School Team needs to work together, to debrief often, and to reach out when members are struggling • Members need to practice self-care deliberately • The Board Team can provide support in this regard – the School Team is not alone

  48. Documentation of Ontario community mobilization response following a suicide cluster

  49. A Comprehensive suicide prevention strategy includes: • Proactive, universal strategies that promote a sense of belonging at school (reaching out to vulnerable students) • Wide-spread instruction in adaptive coping skills, like problem solving and conflict resolution • Knowledge and skills for early identification of mental health problems (with clear connections to service) • Gatekeeper training, with protocols for students at risk • Effective postvention, with protocols Other strategies? Evaluate!!