Prescott AZ (September 27, 2017) – Efforts taken to prevent and deal with suicide fall into three categories: prevention, intervention and postvention.
Prevention is comprised of the actions taken to keep suicides from happening on a broad scale. Some of these actions involve increasing public awareness of suicide statistics, who’s at risk, risk factors, warning signs and symptoms, and de-stigmatization. Some specific examples are: Mental Health First Aid training, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST), safeTALK training, Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program implementation, Yavapai Suicide Prevention Coalition presentations, implementation of JED Foundation programs in high schools and colleges, etc.
Intervention involves the actions taken to help a person with suicidal thoughts and/or behaviors. Actions that fall into this category are personal involvement, contacting a lifeline, securing/removing lethal means, calling 9-1-1. Some specific examples are National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, Teen Lifeline, Yellow Ribbon Suicide Prevention Program, Terros, West Yavapai Guidance Clinic’s Crisis Stabilization Unit, Crisis Response Network, etc.
Postvention was first developed as a concept relating to adolescent suicide. Teen suicide has an element of contagion and can lead to a rare phenomenon called “suicide clusters,” where additional connected suicides can occur after the initial death. As a result, methods for addressing student reactions after suicide were developed. It is now widely accepted that schools have a responsibility to act promptly after a suicide as a means of mitigating the possibility of associated self-harm among students. Similar methods are also viewed as helpful in the event of other deaths occurring within the student population of a school due to accidents, illness or other causes.
Yavapai County Superintendent of Schools, Tim Carter, has taken proactive steps to prevent teen suicide. It is not a casual interest for Mr. Carter, it‘s based on his experience as a high school principal and his direct involvement with children who have threatened, attempted and died by suicide. Schools are widely viewed as safe havens; and because of the intimate involvement that they have with their students, families and community, schools are expected to offer support and protection for their students when tragedy strikes. Therefore, schools typically have decision making protocols that are followed in the event of emergencies such as accidents, fire, weather, and real or perceived threats on or near school campuses. But schools also must be prepared to deal promptly with the unexpected death of a student (or staff member) due to accident, illness or suicide. Each incident involving a student death is unique; but acting proactively can help the school quickly return to a learning environment, while acknowledging the personal impact a death can have on the students, faculty and community.
Since 2013, Yavapai County Schools have had access to a comprehensive protocol that schools can immediately implement in the event of a suicide or other loss (see ycesa.com/files/Postvention.pdf). The protocol is designed to guide school administrators through the myriad decisions that need to be made on short notice: if and how to announce a student death; communicating with parents, rumor control, handling memorials and tributes, providing classroom support to students and staff. A recent challenge involved social media and its impact on the aftermath of a death. Social media has added a new dimension because of its capacity to deliver massive amount of information to students and their parents. This information is often incomplete or unfounded, and has an infinite potential to spread rapidly.
The Yavapai County Education Services Agency has announced that the existing postvention plan has been extensively updated and is planned be made available to Yavapai County schools by the end of October. The updated plan includes a comprehensive checklist for school administrators to guide them through the plan should implementation of its guidelines become necessary. It also contains a section on how to address social media in the dissemination of accurate information.
The Yavapai County Suicide Prevention Coalition has begun to express the importance of having a postvention plan in place, not just for schools, but also for other service agencies. Other examples of postventions are the services provided by organizations such as Survivors of Suicide, Local Outreach to Survivors of Suicide, Arizona Crisis Team (ACT), victim services/resources, etc. It has been said that postvention is also prevention.