According to Kidshealth.org, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for teens. Every day, about 12 young people across America take their own lives.

Educators play an important role in combating this epidemic: know the warning signs, be aware of the risk factors, and know what you can do to help.

Warning Signs

  • talking about suicide or death in general
  • talking about “going away”
  • referring to things they “won’t be needing,” and giving away possessions
  • talking about feeling hopeless or feeling guilty
  • pulling away from friends or family and losing the desire to go out
  • having no desire to take part in favorite things or activities
  • having trouble concentrating or thinking clearly
  • experiencing changes in eating habits (loss of appetite, weight loss, overeating)
  • experiencing changes in sleeping habits (insomnia, oversleeping, nightmares)
  • engaging in self-destructive behavior (drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or cutting, for example)
  • changes in personality: sadness, withdrawal, irritability, anxiety, exhaustion, indecision
  • deterioration in school and/or work performance
  • fear of losing control: erratic behavior, harming self or others

Risk Factors

  • mental health disorders (depression, anxiety)
  • previous suicide attempt(s)
  • alcohol and other substance abuse
  • feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, guilt, loneliness, worthlessness, low self-esteem
  • loss of interest in friends, hobbies, or activities previously enjoyed
  • aggressive behavior
  • bullying or being a bully at school or in social settings
  • disruptive behavior, including disciplinary problems at school or at home
  • high risk behaviors (drinking and driving, poor decision-making)
  • recent/serious loss (death, divorce, separation, broken romantic relationship,)
  • family history of suicide
  • family violence (domestic violence, child abuse or neglect)
  • sexual orientation and identity confusion (lack of support or bullying during the coming out process)
  • access to lethal means like firearms, pills, knives or illegal drugs
  • stigma associated with seeking mental health services
  • barriers to accessing mental health services (lack of bilingual service providers, unreliable transportation, financial costs)

What Can Teachers Do?
– build strong relationships with at-risk students
– create positive interactions with students through compliments and other positive feedback
– encourage student participation in positive, extracurricular activities
– communicate with parents/guardians frequently
– directly talk to at-risk students about your concern for them

When talking with a student about suicide, speak in a calm, non-accusatory manner.  Show concern for the student and remain focused on their well-being.  Express the importance the student has in your life and at school.  Empathize with the student regarding triggers or stresses they may be experiencing.  Encourage the student to seek help and provide them with resources.  Most importantly, do not ignore warning signs.

Suicide Prevention Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
1-800-273-8225

American Psychological Association
http://www.apa.org
Life Crisis Services 24/7 Hotline: 314-647-HELP (4357) / 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

National Mental Health Association
http://www.nmha.org

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention
http://www.afsp.org

National Institute of Mental Health
http://www.nimh.nih.gov

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