How to prepare and respond to suicide in schools

Publication: Help when we needed it most. Samaritans (2013)

Although a school can be affected by many challenging incidents, including sickness and accidental death, it is suicide that presents the unique risk of potentially being the trigger for another suicide.

Strategies for school-based prevention, intervention and postvention of suicidal behaviour are needed. This is because young people spend a considerable amount of their time at school. Suicide prevention demands a multi-sector approach. It can be an important issue not only within the health sector, but in non-health sectors such as the educational sector as well.

The key to coping with a crisis is to plan. It is particularly important that the school responds to a suicide within 48 hours.

This is necessary to maintain the structure and order of the school routine, while facilitating the expression of grief, and reducing the risk of imitative suicide.

Schools with crisis plans in place are best equipped to deal with a suicide when it happens. Good planning for the aftermath of suicide makes it easier for people to respond effectively at a time when resilience may be low.

A postvention protocol is an agreed approach to responding to a suicide.

  • In a school setting, this protocol should ideally:
  • be a written protocol, developed in advance of a suicide;
  • include working with the local community;
  • involve the formation and training of a postvention team – be clear about who will do what;
  • include procedures for notifying staff, parents and young people about a suicide;
  • include guidelines on how to inform the school community and handle the media;
  • identify appropriate postvention services and facilities;
  • include procedures for recognising ‘at risk’ individuals (including staff) and identifying where people would be referred;
  • include an evaluation of the effectiveness of the postvention and any follow-up protocol.
  • It is good practice that the whole school community would be aware of essential
  • information included in such planning, including who to tell, what to say and what not to say, and who is vulnerable.

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