September 6–12, 2020 is National Suicide Prevention Week, a week-long campaign in the U.S. to inform and engage the public about suicide prevention and reduce the stigma surrounding suicide to encourage people to reach out for help and obtain mental health services. This week coincides with World Suicide Prevention Day, which is recognized each year on September 10 to bring worldwide awareness and action toward creating suicide prevention strategies and support systems internationally.
If you need support now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
or text HOME to 741741 to get help 24/7 from the Crisis Text Line
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among 10- to 19-year-olds and a significant cause of concern for teachers and school leadership. Gaggle Safety Management reviews students’ online safety and notifies school officials when students show signs of depression, self-harm, thoughts of suicide, substance abuse, cyberbullying, unhealthy relationships, and violence toward others.
In the 2019–20 school year, Gaggle discovered around 64,000 references to suicide or self-harm—5,600 of which were serious enough to warrant immediate attention from the district. During the 2019–20 academic year alone, Gaggle helped districts save the lives of 927 students who were planning or actually attempting suicide.
While our student safety platform catches and flags mentions of suicide, depression, and self-harm that occur on students’ school-issued emails and accounts, it’s impossible for our machine learning algorithms and human safety experts to pick up on the more subtle signs of suicide in students that they may not share online. That’s why—as parents and educators—it’s important to know how to recognize the warning signs of suicide and self-harm in students and take the necessary steps to prevent suicide at your school.
Know the Warning Signs of Suicide
The warning signs of suicidal thoughts in young people are widely varied and can be indications of other mental health struggles. When deciding if a student is at risk for suicide, it’s more important to consider the prevalence of suicidal thoughts or behaviors, unusual or out-of-character behaviors, and any recent life events that could trigger suicidal thoughts or behaviors. Here are some common warning signs of suicide:
- Talking about or sharing ideas/plans for suicide
- Expressing hopelessness about the future
- Increased or new use of alcohol or drugs
- Exhibiting overwhelming emotional pain or distress
- Withdrawal from social activities and interactions
- Talking about being a burden
- Increased struggles with low self-esteem
- Changes in sleep habits and eating patterns
- Sudden or unusual anger or hostility
- Increased irritability and anxiety
- Giving away prized possessions
- Participating in risky or self-destructive behaviors or activities
- A recent loss, change, or painful event
Actions Can Make a Difference
Here are some actionable steps you can take to help protect your students or child and prevent suicide and self-harm:
- For students experiencing mental health concerns like depression or anxiety that have led to suicidal thoughts and behaviors, a good first step is to address these mental health concerns with compassion, support, and, if necessary, mental health services.
For guidance in supporting students, or for direct support for students themselves, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255). The FCC has recently announced a transition to 988 as the phone number for the Lifeline, to take effect by July of 2022. This will greatly increase ease of access to this important hotline for those struggling with suicidal thoughts nationwide.
- Implement a student safety platform, like Gaggle Safety Management, which protects students 24/7/365 using a machine learning algorithm and team of human safety professionals. When harmful content is discovered on student accounts, Gaggle immediately notifies a school official of the concern. In the event of an emergency situation, Gaggle is also able to contact local law enforcement to intervene immediately and prevent students from harming themselves or others.
- Learn and practice the five action steps by #BeThe1To to learn how to communicate with someone who may be suicidal and support them as they recover. These five steps—ask, be there, keep them safe, help them connect, and follow up—are supported by evidence in the field of suicide prevention.
- Create safe spaces for students to talk about suicide or report concerns of friends who are experiencing suicidal thoughts. Gaggle’s SpeakUp for Safety tipline is a confidential reporting channel where students can share their concerns to be reviewed and addressed directly by safety professionals.
It’s also important to give students the information they need to connect directly with school or district counselors and other mental health support professionals, so they have the ability to independently reach out if they need help.
- Watch out for triggers of suicidal thoughts, including but not limited to:
- Traumatic experiences, such as assault, loss of a family member or someone close, natural disasters, witnessing violence or crime, and more
- Subtle race-based emotional trauma
- Gender dysphoria or negative coming out experiences
- Eating disorders and body dysmorphia
Be prepared to support students in the midst of these events or triggers to help them feel supported before they start to experience suicidal thoughts or self-harming behaviors. Find helpful resources and guidance in the links above.
By watching for the warning signs of suicide and taking steps toward suicide prevention, you can help to protect students and prevent tragedies. It takes a village to keep students safe, but with parents, teachers, student peers, district leaders, and a safety management platform all on the same page, you can save the lives of students experiencing suicidal thoughts before it’s too late.