Suicide prevention during COVID / Distance Learning begins with outreach and sharing information universally with all students. Beyond Social Emotional Learning (SEL), suicide prevention and risk assessment requires knowledge of best practices and the professional skills needed to carry out activities that can be highly charged and emotionally loaded, for students, teachers, staff and parents.
California was the first state in the U.S. to require suicide prevention in grades 7-12. AB 2246 mandates suicide prevention, intervention, and post vention. This law has not been suspended during COVID and it’s widely known that COVID is having significant impacts on child, adolescent, and family mental health and wellness.
All public schools districts in California, including charter schools, must develop policies, practices and procedures related to suicide prevention for students in middle school and high school. Most private and independent schools incorporate suicide awareness and prevention into the school experience of students in the upper (secondary) school.
Some schools distribute flyers, cards, magnets, and virtual flyers with the Suicide Prevention Hotline #.
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death among young people ages 10-24. Studies from Yale, UC Berkeley Public Health, and NAMI warn of spikes in youth suicide as the result of COVID. Racial trauma is a significant adverse childhood experience that impacts people of color.
Due to the high risk of dying by suicide, under AB 2246, LGBTQ youth and other high-risk populations such as homeless students and foster youth are called out for targeted support.
Local experts, school and community stakeholders, and school mental health professionals are involved in Contra Costa County, CA. Many school districts are using the Palo Alto model as a blueprint and toolkit. The Columbia Suicide Risk assessment protocol helps to provide consistency and clear guidance and and color ranking system, this is especially helpful for interns, clinicians, and school officials who are less familiar with suicide risk assessment. Suicide risk assessment includes inquiry and gathering information about ideation, intent, plan, means to carry out that plan. Risk factors, protective factors, precipitants, and know the child’s story and way of seeing the world also helps to inform decisions about next steps.
At the same time, parents, teachers and students themselves are seeking information that’s more nuanced than calling the hotline, calling 911, or going to the nearest emergency room.
Some schools and school districts provide in-depth training, services, and support, including what to do after the student calls the hotline, what to if a student returns from a 5150 hospitalization (as 4/5 do) and how to make transition plans for children and teenagers returning from inpatient psychiatric hospitalization.
See NASP for valuable information about suicide risk assessment during COVID / Distance Learning.
James Wogan’s FlipBoard magazine on Suicide Prevention is a compilation of articles, research and news related to child and adolescent mental health and suicide prevention.
James Wogan is a member of the Contra Costa County Suicide Prevention Committee.