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Suicides Are on the Rise. Here's How Schools Can Help

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 By Guest Blogger Lisa Stark 

"Extremely discouraging."

That's how the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention describes the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control. The CDC found in 2017, more than 47,000 people died by suicide in the United States. That's an addtional 2,200 deaths over the previous year. 

Suicide is still rare, but it is now the second leading cause of death for those ages 10 to 19. Mental health experts say that puts schools in a prime position to help troubled students and prevent suicides.

What can schools do? Create a warm and welcoming environment, address bullying, and educate students and staff about depression and suicide are a few key strategies.

Molly Kammerdeiner, a former high school student who suffers from depression, believes school counselors helped save her by intervening when she hit rock bottom. 

We spoke to Molly and others about suicide prevention in the schools. Here are their 6 tips:

What Schools Should Do After a Student Suicide

Mental-health experts say that as important as it is for schools to work to prevent suicides, it's equally important for them to react correctly after a student suicide. There is always the risk of "contagion"—additional suicides by students who may already be at risk. 

Schools are advised not to glamorize the death, but also to make sure there are ways for students and staff to grieve and get counseling. Ben Fernandez, a former school psychologist who oversees prevention services for schools in Loudoun County, Va., told us, the ripple effects of a suicide can be long lasting, "like a bomb going off." He says schools and parents need to stay vigilant after the immediate crisis is over.  The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention has a detailed toolkit for schools on handling suicides.

Here are 5 basic tips for educators on how to respond after a tragedy.

Schools often struggle with mental health resources; most have fewer than the recommended number of counselors, social workers, and psycholgists. Principal Douglas Fulton, at Loudoun County's Freedom High School, says schools need a team approach. Everyone, he says, from teachers to cafeteria workers to bus drivers, to the students themselves, need to be engaged in promoting mental wellness and keeping an eye out for struggling students. 


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