After a suicide at a school or college. What do you do?

The term “postvention” describes an intervention initiated after a traumatic event and for the purposes of this post, the term refers specifically to an intervention following a death by suicide on a school campus. An effective response includes communication, connection, healthy grieving, commemoration, stabilization, coping skills and resilience development, and advocacy.

Good postvention is good prevention

The knee-jerk reaction by schools and colleges is to cancel everything. But the opposite is recommended. Furthermore, the administration usually tries to contain it by being hush-hush which further exacerbates an emotional crisis and stigmatizes a suicide death.

Why not cancel classes?

For one thing, routine provides a level of comfort. So even if students show up for class and the lesson plan is not delivered, just showing up and doing your best counts. It’s an opportunity to connect and there is no time more important than after a loss. “Keep your structure,” is advice we routinely heard from school social workers we interviewed for our book who had weathered one or more student suicide crises.

What happens if you cancel classes? You can spark contagion. Because once you have one suicide on campus, all the other kids who’ve been struggling are triggered. So by canceling classes you are isolating at-risk students even more.

Cancelling also sends a message that students “can’t handle it” further fragilizing them. What really needs to happen is for everyone to come together to support one another, connect, and have a discussion. By canceling you are effectively wasting an opportunity to prevent further loss of life and promote healing.

By having everyone come together and talk, and support each other, you are in a position to share information about how to help a friend who might be thinking of suicide so you have multiple eyes and ears out there. You can start off a healthy grieving process and highlight mental health resources like the crisis text line (741-741 USA and Canada).

Losing my son, Charles, to suicide took me to my knees for years.

I’ve never been through something so agonizing and painful. And I do know that handling this part right is important so that fewer are in the club I’m in, the one no one else wants to be in.

In our book, Emotionally Naked: A Teacher’s Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk by me (Anne Moss Rogers) and co-writer Kimberly O’Brien PhD LICSW, we have written an entire section on postvention complete with scripts, discussion guides on postvention and grief, simply to give staff and faculty some talking points and guidance for talking about suicide and grief with students. We also give students a framework from which to create their own action plan. Of course, there are also sections on prevention and intervention, as well as building coping skills.

Below are links to postvention guides and prompts for discussion in classes. I beg you to share this. And I don’t beg often. But seeing so many schools handle it poorly after spending time in a writing cave for a year writing a book about it, has me imploding. I don’t want other parents to go through this.

Evidence-based Postvention Guides (after a suicide) and articles to help

All of these are free, and I’ve highlighted the two most important ones, evidence-based guides for educators. They’ll help education leaders write the emails, talk with reporters, reach out to parents, facilitate discussions with students, work with the media.

Free PDF- Postvention Guide for CollegesFrom JED Foundation & Higher Education Mental Health Alliance (HEMHA) Project

Free PDF- After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools- Second EditionFrom NASP, NASSP, ASCA

Educator support for supporting grieving students after suicide loss

Book About Suicide Prevention, Intervention and Postvention in Schools

In our book, Emotionally Naked: A Teacher’s Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk by me (Anne Moss Rogers) and co-writer Kimberly O’Brien PhD LICSW, published in August of 2021, we covered memorialization policy and postvention recommendations, scripts to talk with parents, containing contagion and cohort suicide, scripts for educators on how to start a conversation including how long discussions should last, scripts on what to say to other students when the parents don’t disclose the cause of death. How to spot students at risk and get students to look out for one another, how to have a conversation with a suicidal student, what to do about the empty desk syndrome, and how some students have extended their advocacy in the prevention space. We’ve also included a pdf of all the discussion guides, links to resources, and more here.

More Postvention Guides

USA 1-800-273-8255
USA Crisis Text 741-741
USA Crisis Line for LGBTQ Youth 1-866-488-7386
USA Crisis Text for LGBTQ Youth 678-678
USA TransLifeline 1-833-456-4566
USA Suicide Prevention Lifeline & Chat for the Deaf or Hearing impaired. Or dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255
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

Published by

Anne Moss Rogers

I am an emotionally naked TEDx speaker, and author of the Book, Diary of a Broken Mind and co-author with Kim O'Brien PhD, LICSW of Emotionally Naked: A Teacher's Guide to Preventing Suicide and Recognizing Students at Risk. I raised two boys, Richard and Charles, and lost my younger son, Charles to substance use disorder and suicide on June 5, 2015. I help people foster a culture of connection to prevent suicide, reduce substance misuse and find life after loss. My motivational, training and workshop topics include suicide prevention, addiction, mental illness, coping strategies/resilience, and grief. As talented and funny as Charles was, letting other people know they matter was his greatest gift. And now the legacy I try and carry forward in my son's memory. Professional Speaker Website. Trained in ASIST and trainer for the evidence-based 4-hour training for everyone called safeTALK.

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