Safety Management Categories: Suicide & Self Harm

This is the fourth post in a Gaggle Speaks series on our Safety Management categories. In this post, we discuss our Suicide & Self Harm category.

Gaggle Safety Representatives are tasked with identifying instances of self harm, which can include self-inflicted physical violence, threats of suicide and even eating disorders. More often Gaggle intervenes in suicide threats and instances of cutting. Eating disorders and other instances of self-inflicted physical violence (such as students who burn themselves with cigarettes) are a concern, but occur less frequently.

Like almost all incidents we discover, it’s crucial to combine machine learning technology with trained Safety Representatives to accurately identify students who need help. Students very frequently use hyperbole, especially in online communication, and there is a great difference between hyperbole and actual suicide threats.

By way of example, imagine a student says: “OMG, 😉 if I have to listen to you complain about Algebra homework one more time, I’m going to jump off the roof.” It’s clear in this case that the student is using hyperbole, but it’s easier for a human to see this than it is for an algorithm.

Alternatively, imagine a student says: “I plan on ending it all tonight after my family is asleep. You’ve been a good friend, please don’t blame yourself.” It’s more probable that this is a serious threat, requiring immediate attention. Again, this is something that a human is more fit to identify than technology.

Gaggle has intervened in more than 200 real threats of suicide since the start of the school year. In a surprising number of instances, school and district emergency contacts caught students in the act of ending their lives. For a moving example of such an incident, be sure to read our recent case study, “The Priceless Value of a Student’s Life.”

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