So how do you be there for yourself and your students after a suicide loss and still get through the day? How can you look for that student that might also be thinking of joining the one who died when your mind is mush? What do you say or do? And if you do it all wrong will that mean someone else will die?
You need to talk about the suicide with your students. Counselors from outside don’t have the relationships with them that you have. They want to talk to you. Silence leaves students who are struggling with no opportunity to tell. They want to talk. And students struggling with no outlet for their grief facing silence about the subject are likely to cope in unhealthy ways. And given the vulnerable adolescent population, someone in that school is thinking they want to join the deceased because there is a risk of contagion with every student suicide. Talking about it helps and encourages those who are struggling to reach out for help. So here are some talking scripts below.
The conversation need only last about 5-10 minutes. And here are some downloadable guidelines. Make sure any student who asks to leave is escorted or accompanied by another student after a suicide death for safety reasons. Even if it’s just going to the bathroom. You can tell your students it’s no time for anyone to be alone. Post resources on the walls of your classroom or in a chat or virtual background for distance learning. It’s important to keep your structure after a crisis as best you can even though it’s not business as usual, otherwise, kids get dysregulated. Do not discuss method with this population.
Discussions should have:
- Remind them that they can’t keep a friend’s thoughts of suicide a secret but share with a trusted adult
- Bring their attention to crisis lines and school resources
- Include messages of hope or coping strategy in the discussion
Sharing Stories about the Deceased Script
What has happened at our school has shocked all of us. That includes me. I hardly slept all week. How about you? (look for nods) And today is a hard day for me because I am so sad about Sebastian’s death.
Before I ask for your participation in today’s discussion, I want to point out the crisis text line which is right there on the wall and remind you that if you know a friend who has expressed thoughts of suicide don’t keep it a secret but tell a trusted adult–me, the school counselor, a parent. I need you to keep an eye on your peers. We don’t want to lose any of you because if you leave us, we’d be robbed of all your gifts. There is only one you and no one else in the world now or ever will be exactly like you.
So I wanted those of you who knew Sebastian to share a memory, a brief story, a character trait, something he liked to do, or some snippet about him in remembrance. And if you wanted to write it down, we can add it to a notebook that we’ll give his parents. No one is obligated, OK? We’ll do this for about ten minutes. Sound good?
Directions: Give the students who want to the opportunity to share a memory and talk about the student who died.
Feelings Check-In Script
We are going to have a short 5-10 minute discussion about Carolyn’s suicide because we are all hurting. I am hurting. To do this, we are going to grant everyone in here the grace of expressing how they feel without judgment. Can we agree on that? (Look for head nods.) Anger, sadness, frustration, helplessness, disbelief, and even awkward and inappropriate humor are all ways in which some of us express our grief. What’s important is that we feel the feelings and don’t push them away.
Before I ask for your participation, I want to point out the crisis text line which right there on the wall. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, I want you to let me know, our school counselor, your parents, or text that crisis line. And if you know of someone who is struggling, you should tell a trusted adult.
Now let’s get in a big circle. Now I want to go around the room and if each of you could share what emotions you are all feeling right now? Just one or two words. It’s OK if you are sad. It’s OK if you are tired of it all, too. I might ask for more detail and it’s up to you whether you share that. Sound OK?
Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda Script
I think we all feel responsible that someone we knew was struggling as much as Sylvester was and we didn’t pick up on it. I feel that way, too and I have been struggling with, “How could I miss the signs?” Do you all feel that way? (Acknowledge head nods.) But then I also know that I can’t read someone’s mind and I can’t control what another person does because “Super Hero” or “God” aren’t on my resume.
Before I ask for your participation, I want to point out the crisis text line which is right there on the wall. If you are struggling with thoughts of suicide, I want you to let me know, our school counselor, your parents, or text that crisis line. And if you know of someone who is struggling, you should tell a trusted adult.
I think the “coulda woulda shoulda is a natural part of the process of grief. So I wanted to open up a conversation for about 5-10 minutes on the topic of: Why do we take a death by suicide so personally compared to other causes of death?
Discussion points (you might not get through all of these in one class)
- Part of the reason we feel responsible is that we know suicide is preventable and that most people who die by suicide let their intentions be known in some way through words or actions. We missed them because we are human, right? Does anyone want to talk about why they think they are responsible? (Usually, the teens will point out reasons why their peer is not responsible which is a healthy exercise for them.)
- So I hear many of you saying that as you look back, you see signs that you missed. Let me ask you this. You know all the answers now, the outcome, and everything. Do you think it’s fair that you’re looking back at yourself before the death through the lens of a person who knows the outcome?
- Let’s figure out how a change in routine, a walk around the block, for example, might force your brain out of that self-defeating “if only” cycle. Let’s discuss some coping strategies that might make that happen. (writing, painting, listening to music, exercise)
- Do you think Sylvester would want us all to feel like we caused his death?
Working Through Our Grief Script
I’ve not slept since Helmut died by suicide. And I think it would be a good idea if all of us shared some ways to cope with our grief. Because maybe one of your ideas will help me or someone else. And maybe mine will help you. Can we do that for 5-10 minutes?
Before we do that, just know that if anyone in here is struggling with thoughts of suicide, I will listen without judgment. If you know of someone struggling, please let me know, the school counselor or a parent. A trusted adult needs to know because this is life or death. Please make note of the crisis line here on the wall as well.
I think your grief coping strategies will be applicable to other situations so this will be helpful for everyone. Take about two minutes and write down a few, then I’ll go first and who wants to go after me? I can’t wait to hear some of your ideas and I’ll write these on the whiteboard. So what are some good coping strategies to manage the grief? It can be writing or art or running….You have two minutes to make the best list you can.
- Find support
- Mindful exercises/meditation
- I’m Not OK app
- Acts of kindness and giving back
- Connecting with each other
- Listening to each other
- Making something
- Talking about the person/Telling Stories
- Embracing faith
- Start the day reflecting on something you are grateful for
- Breathing exercises
- Forgiving yourself
- Self-care (examples: meeting up with a friend to ride bikes)
- Listening or writing music
- Make a plan- Planning for days that may be hard (birthdays)
- Free eBook: The Emotionally Naked Bereavement Provider
- Suicide resources including: After a Suicide: A toolkit for schools (Scroll down to schools in blue)
- Tips for Teachers Following a Suicide
USA Crisis Text 741-741
US Crisis Line for LGBTQ Youth 1-866-488-7386
US Crisis Text for LGBTQ Youth 678-678
USA TransLifeline 1-833-456-4566
United Kingdom Samaritans 116 123
Australia Crisis Line 13 11 14
Canada Crisis Line 1-833-456-4566
Canada TransLifeline 877-330-6366
International suicide hotlines