While suicide in the U.S. is increasing across all ages, September’s Suicide Prevention Month, timed with the back-to-school season, is an unsettling reminder of how suicide has become a leading cause of death for ages 10-24. The fact that 16 percent of adolescents and one-in-three high schoolers have considered suicide illustrates how pervasive this crisis is and why teen and young adult suicide rates are now the highest on record. LGBTQ students face an even higher suicide risk, with recent studies finding that 40 percent of high school students who identify as gay, lesbian or bisexual were seriously considering suicide.
State legislatures are taking new actions to address this problem with 16 states and Washington, D.C. requiring school suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention policies and/or suicide prevention programming statewide. A new California law requires suicide prevention information to be printed on the back of student IDs for every student in grades seven through 12 and for college students.
Teachers on the Front Line
The challenge is that young adults who feel suicidal are not likely to seek help directly because they worry about what it may mean for their reputation. With students spending one-third of their day in the classroom, teachers and school mental health counselors are on the front line of observing certain behaviors that may indicate that a student is suffering from depression:
- Serious grade problems
- Unaccountable change from good to poor performance
- Change from frequent attendance to excessive absences
- A marked change in mood, motor activity, or speech
- A marked change in physical appearance
- New or regularly occurring behavior which pushes the limits and may interfere with class management
- An unusual or exaggerated emotional response
Teachers and school mental health counselors are aided by new classroom technologies, such as GoGuardian’s Beacon, that monitor school-issued devices and create an alert when concerning at-risk activity is detected. The right people, including parents and school staff, are notified so that immediate counseling can take place. Beyond providing alerts about individuals, online tools can identify systemic issues that are negatively affecting their students. In one school district, an online tool identified that many of their students were struggling with emotional distress as a result of questions about their sexual identity. Recognition of this issue initiated a schoolwide dialogue and led to the district investing in additional resources and support in this area.
A key to addressing this issue is the destigmatizing of depression and anxiety. This includes providing students and those around them—including their friends, teachers, parents and school counselors—with information and tools that can help them identify early signs of mental health issues so they can initiate a conversation and get help as necessary.
There is help and there is hope. People are available 24/7 to listen, help and provide support for those in need.
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
- Text the Crisis Text Line — text “TALK” to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor for free
For more information about this and useful resources for schools and educators, visit:
- Extending a Hand for Suicide Prevention Month – infographic
- Suicide and Self-Harm Resources – web resources
- Social-Emotional Learning and Suicide Prevention in Schools – e-book
- Starting a School Suicide Prevention Program – white paper
GoGuardian helps support safe and engaging learning experiences for students. Our objective is to provide a bird’s-eye view of online safety issues and to promote school and student dialogue when needed most. September is a reminder of the spotlight needed on the critical issue of student mental health, and GoGuardian is committed to supporting this effort. To learn more about GoGuardian’s commitment to student mental health, visit: https://www.goguardian.com/.