Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people in the state of Kansas. If you or someone you know is dealing with issues related to suicide please contact a responsible adult immediately.
Police Officer, Teacher, Nurse, Counselor, Administrator, Parent or anyone else you can find who might be able to help.
Keeping Students Safe: Preventing Suicide in Shawnee Mission School District
This document is provided to help all SMSD staff, volunteers, and concerned parties understand the challenge of youth suicide and how we can keep our students safe.
Why should we worry about youth suicide? Are many kids really depressed or suicidal?
- Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth in Kansas
- We have the 19th highest rate in the US, 29% higher than the U.S. average.
- We lose one young person to suicide about every other week.
- More than one in five Kansas high school students report symptoms of depression.
Suicide can be prevented by knowing a few key warning signs.
Early warning signs include:
- Declining quality of school work.
- In girls, watch for social isolation. In boys, anger problems.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Change in eating habits, eating a lot or very little.
Late warning signs include:
- Talking about suicide
- Change in sleeping habits—a major sleep disturbance is an important sign
- Impulsive violent or rebellious actions
- Sudden cheerfulness after a period of depression
- Giving away possessions
- Making a last will/testament
Also understand that:
Mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety, usually contribute to attempted and completed suicides. These concerns are treatable, but they must be recognized.
A prior suicide attempt is the best predictor of a future suicide attempt.
Everyone in a school community can identify and help students at risk for suicide.
Common Suicide Myths & Realities
Myth: Asking a student how they are doing or if they have had thoughts about harming themselves will bring on thoughts of suicide.
Reality: Students are already thinking about and completing suicide. Carefully talking about the topic and getting students to help are keys to preventing suicide.
Myth: Students won’t be honest when asked if they need help.
Reality: Students who are having thoughts about suicide are usually scared and want help. No one truly wants to die.
Myth: Only pupil service professionals can/should help a suicidal student.
Reality: Everyone in school can help prevent youth suicide by connecting students to appropriate helping professionals.
What can you do if you are concerned about a student?
Teachers and other school staff are well-positioned to observe student behavior and to ACT if there is a suspicion that a student may consider self-harm. Young people lack the perspective of time. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, but for kids, their problems can seem endless at this stage. If we get them through the crisis, they are very unlikely to attempt suicide. ACT stands for Acknowledge, Care, and Tell.
- Acknowledge the feelings.
- “I’m sorry to hear about this. It sounds really hard.”
- “You have some major challenges in your life right now.”
Telling a student with depression and suicidal thinking to “get over it” or “move on” is not realistic. Avoid minimizing their feelings by saying things like:
- “You’ll get over this.”
- “Time heals all wounds.”
- “Stop worrying so much—it’s no biggie.”
Show Care and Concern for the student by taking the next step.
- “I’m worried about you. I don’t want anything bad to happen or for you to be hurt.”
- “I don’t want this to get any worse.”
- “I really want to be sure you get some help.”
- “You’re an important part of my class and I want to be sure you stay safe.”
Tell a member of your crisis team.
- “Let’s go talk with someone in the counseling office. They know how to work with students who have concerns like these.”
- “I know the people in Student Services, and they work with a lot of students who face challenges like this. Let’s go together, right now.”
These steps (Acknowledge-Care-Tell) are the central components of the “Signs of Suicide” program (SOS), an evidence-based school-wide intervention program.
What other resources should school staff be aware of?