With suicide attempts so prevalent, what are we doing about transitioning kids from psychiatric hospitals back to the school environment?
Transitioning kids back to school after a suicide attempt should be similar to integrating a child who had missed school for major surgery or cancer treatments. In other words, you treat that absence like you would any other major absence and follow the same policy you have for that transition.
The following is the ideal scenario, however, some rural and smaller schools don’t have these kinds of resources so follow what you can when you can.
Social and peer relations
- Connect the student with a school-based support group, peer helpers program, or a buddy/friend.
- If the culture at school has been difficult, arrange for a transfer to another school if recommended
- Remain sensitive to the need for discretion and how to minimize gossip
The transition from the hospital setting
- Have someone from the school visit the student in the hospital or at home prior to the re-entry process with permission from the parents/guardians
- Ask/Consult with the student to discuss what support he or she feels is needed to make a more successful transition. It’s important to make them feel like a partner in the process. Include what information faculty may need to facilitate a smooth re-entry.
- Request permission to attend treatment planning meetings and the hospital discharge meeting
- Arrange for the student to work on school assignments while in the hospital if appropriate
- Include the school counselor (or staff equivalent) in the school re-entry planning meeting.
Academic concerns on return to school
- Ask the student about his or her academic concerns and discuss the options
- Arrange tutoring from peers or teachers without putting too much pressure on the student
- Modify the schedule and adjust the course load to relieve stress
- Allow makeup work to be adjusted and extended without penalty
- Monitor the student’s progress and approach the subject with compassion
- Alert the school nurse to find out information regarding prescribed medication and what the possible side effects might be
- Notify teachers if significant side effects are anticipated
- Follow the policy of having the school nurse monitor and dispense all medication taken by the student at school
Family concerns (fear, denial, guilt, social embarrassment, anxiety, lack of support)
- Schedule a family conference with designated school personnel or home-school coordinator to address concerns
- Include parents in the re-entry planning meeting
- Reinforce the fact that the information the school needs to assist the student is limited to facilitating optimal school adjustment and performance, and does not include personal details of emotional distress
- Refer the family to an outside community agency or private practitioners for family counseling services. (NAMI, AFSP, State and county agencies)
- Include information about community agencies with a sliding fee scale
Behavior and attendance problems
- Meet with teachers to help students anticipate appropriate limits and consequences of behavior
- Discuss concerns and options with the student in an empathetic manner
- Consult with discipline administrator
- Request daily attendance reports
- Schedule administrator and parent conferences to review attendance and discipline records
- Assign a school liaison to meet regularly with the student at established times. Try to assign someone who already has a relationship with the student and has empathy and compassion. Talk to the student about his or her adjustment.
- Maintain contact with the therapist and parents
- Ask the student to check in with the school counselor daily/weekly
- Utilize established support systems, student assistance teams, coaches, support groups, friends, clubs, and organizations.
- Schedule follow-up sessions with the school psychologist or home-school coordinator
- Provide information to families regarding available community resources when school is not in session
- Provide information for Family Members And Caregivers to get support (Mental health Family Members And Caregivers groups through NAMI for example)
No one thing is right for every child and then if there is re-entry to school, it takes planning to figure out what that should look like.
*In the event that a student loses a family member to suicide, school personnel should understand that suicide evokes special, complicated grief and most of the ongoing support considerations mentioned in Ongoing Support would also apply.
These articles provide good guides on what to do if a child goes back after losing someone to suicide:
- Returning to School After a Suicide Loss: For Teens
- Returning to School After a Suicide Loss: For Younger Children