Schools and Student Suicide

Teenage suicide is a serious issue which has a ripple effect on everyone exposed to the tragedy. According to several mental health experts, the aftermath of a student’s suicide may actually worsen the conditions of other depressed teens. According to these specialists, candlelit vigils, memorials and large assemblies can often trigger additional suicides.

Darcy Haag Granello, professor of counselor education at Ohio State University, explains that “the first goal after a student suicide should be eliminating the contagion that can lead to copycat suicides.“ She brings up the example of a high school where a popular boy died of suicide. Staffers and students organized numerous memorials, only to experience another suicide one month later.

“This second student, who was at risk and vulnerable, had watched his classmates at all the memorials for the first boy and though ‘I wonder what they’d say about me?’ Schools need to let students know that suicide is not glamorous, but also give support by grieving.”

Schools throughout the U.S. are overwhelmed and under-staffed as is, and are largely unprepared to deal with a student’s suicide. Stephen Roggenbaum, a research assistant at the University of South Florida, has helped to develop the Youth Suicide Prevention School-Based Guide for institutes across the nation.

“Teachers and administrators have our youth for one third of their day….. Schools are already asked to do so much with fewer resources,” Roggenbaum said. “Many administrators don’t have time to scour the literature on youth suicide themselves. We’ve tried to fill that void.”
Dr. Nancy Rappaport, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard University, strongly suggests incorporating mental health screenings into routine adolescent health care, like the program offered by Teen Screen National Center for Mental Health Checkups.

“From a historic perspective, 20 years ago schools thought the way to talk to students about suicide was during a large assembly, which was actually not helpful at all in identifying who might be at risk,” Rappaport said. “If you identify and treat depression, you decrease the suicide rate. Any time a school community loses a student to suicide, it’s heartbreaking…. There is nothing worse.”