The role of the school and parents in suicide prevention
BY LUCY SIMIYU
The Suicide Prevention Week (first week of September) was a global event whose sole purpose is to create awareness about suicide prevention and warning signs of suicide.
As a school, the mental health of our students is of utmost importance, hence the involvement of Crawford International School in the campaign. Our theme this year is ‘Let’s Talk’, a rallying call to teachers, parents and friends to start conversations around a topic that most people find both difficult and uncomfortable.
One may wonder why we should be having this discussion in a setting that caters for children and adolescents. Unfortunately current statistics indicate that globally, suicide is the leading cause of death among school age youth.
Yet suicide is preventable. Young people who are contemplating suicide frequently give warning signs of their distress. Parents, teachers, and friends are in a key position to pick up on these signs and get help. It is important to never take these warning signs lightly, or promise to keep them secret.
When all adults in school settings commit to making suicide prevention a priority, we can help our children and adolescents before they engage in behavior that results in irreversible consequences. Having this conversation marks the beginning of empowering members of the school community, both students and adults alike, to take correct steps.
The integration of a suicide prevention program in the school’s mental health services is always a good starting point. Furthermore, promoting healthy and positive relationships between students and adults creates a supportive environment that nurtures trust.
The program should further engage the entire school community by promoting healthy and positive relationships between students and the adults in the school. This will in turn create an environment where students feel safe sharing information about their struggles without feeling judged or condemned. It helps to have all school staff members be familiar with, and watchful for, risk factors and warning signs of suicidal behavior.
In school settings, the school psychologist works with the school’s administration and the school nurse to intervene when a student is identified at risk for suicide. The role of the school psychologist is to conduct suicide risk assessment, warn and inform parents, provide recommendations and referrals to community services, and often provide follow up counseling and support at school.
Parents are crucial members of a suicide risk assessment as they often have information critical to making an appropriate assessment of risk, including mental health history, family dynamics, recent traumatic events, and previous suicidal behaviors. The school will often notify a parent of their child’s risk for suicide and provide referral information.
However, the responsibility falls upon the parent to seek mental health assistance for their child. Some of parental responsibilities include taking any threats about suicide seriously, do not assume that it is simply attention seeking behavior; following through on support offered by the school, especially referrals. In case a parent is uncomfortable with following through on external referrals, they can give the school psychologist permission to contact the referral agency, provide referral information, and follow up on the visit and; maintaining regular communication with the school. The counseling office exists to offer parents support. Communication will be crucial to ensuring that the child feels both safe and comfortable at school.
It is my sincere hope that both teachers and parents will be motivated to learn, share information, and inspire students towards speaking up whenever they feel overwhelmed. We have within ourselves the desire to be advocates for the mental well-being of our students.
Writer is school psychologist at Crawford International School