Chapter 4: After a student’s death from suicide
“I couldn’t believe it. He asked me if we could hang out on Friday and I said no, I was busy that night. I didn’t know. I would’ve invited him to come out to my dads with me. I feel so guilty. I didn’t know”. -Student
There is often a concern that talking about suicide will increase the risk of suicide for other students. In fact, having the opportunity to have honest discussions about suicide with students can be helpful. The focus of these conversations should be on healthy ways of coping and on available resources for students and peers, related to grief and other struggles they may be experiencing.
While many students may have already learned about the death through social media and word of mouth, their information may not be accurate. Discussing suicide as the cause of death sets the tone for openness and honesty. It also minimizes rumours.
There are some general guidelines that are important to keep in mind when informing students of a death from suicide.
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1. Before informing students about a death from suicide, your school should arrange consultation with a school counsellor, social worker or other staff member who has training in this area to guide the process.
2. Prior to informing your students, all staff should meet at least once to debrief and develop a plan for supporting students.
3. Your school administration should provide you with a script that you can use when communicating with your students in their classrooms. A script ensures a common message and supports staff who are struggling to find the best way to tell students.
4. It’s important that you sensitively inform your students about the death in small groups within a classroom or other private setting. This information should never be shared over the PA system or in an assembly.
5. Avoid discussion about the specific means of the death. This may increase the risk of imitative behaviours to vulnerable students.
6. Avoid overly simplified explanations for suicidal behaviour or speculation about ‘why’ the student died by suicide.
7. Share only factual information and be mindful of how you speak about the death. Avoid glamorizing or sensationalizing it by using statements such as “finally her pain is over” or “she’s in a better place”, as well as judgmental statements, such as “what a selfish thing to do.”
8. Provide guidance about being respectful and using discretion in regard to specific information learned from social media. Remind students of the impact of hurtful or insensitive remarks on the family and friends of the person who has died.
9. Share appropriate ways of expressing condolences and providing support to the bereaved family.
10. Let students know that if they or someone they know is struggling with their mental health, there are resources available to support them. Encourage them to reach out to an adult for support if they, or someone they know, is having thoughts of self-harm or suicide – even if they’ve been asked to keep this information confidential.