Background Information

Suicidal thoughts can be frightening. Even though it I may seem scary to talk about them, it is very important to acknowledge how someone is feeling. Teens should always feel safe enough to tell an adult if they are feeling suicidal or if they have a friend who is feeling suicidal. Talking with students about never keeping suicidal thoughts a secret is crucial. Conversations about suicidal thoughts may be upsetting but it is an important conversation to have because it saves lives.

Suicide prevention is a collection of efforts to reduce the risk of suicide. These efforts may occur at the individual, relationship, community, and societal level. Suicide is preventable.
• 2 in 10 Illinois students report being bullied.
• Students who are bullied are twice as likely to attempt suicide,
• 47,000 Illinois students reported attempting suicide in 2015.
• Nearly 100 Illinois youth ages 10 to 19 died by suicide in 2015.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, over 48,000 people died by suicide in the United States in 2018. Suicide is the 10ᵗʰ leading cause of death worldwide and the second leading cause of death for those aged 15-34. In Illinois, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death resulting in more than 1,000 deaths each year. Studies suggest that engaging at-risk individuals through public awareness can be an effective method of suicide prevention and support. Suicide is complicated and tragic but is often preventable. Knowing the warning signs for suicide, and how to help, can help save lives. Look for both direct and indirect signs.

Best Practices and Implications for Professional Practice

The best way to prevent suicide is to use a comprehensive approach that includes these key components:
• Promote emotional well-being and connectedness among all students.
Identify students who may be at risk for suicide and assist them in getting help.
Be prepared to respond when a suicide death occurs.

Here are five action steps for helping someone in emotional pain from the National Institutes of Mental Health:

1. ASK: “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” It’s not an easy question but studies show that asking at-risk individuals if they are suicidal does not increase suicides or suicidal thoughts.

2. KEEP THEM SAFE: Reducing a suicidal person’s access to highly lethal items or places is an important part of suicide prevention. While this is not always easy, asking if the at-risk person
has a plan and removing or disabling the lethal means can make a difference.

3. BE THERE: Listen carefully and learn what the individual is thinking and feeling. Research suggests acknowledging and talking about suicide may in fact reduce rather than increase suicidal

4. HELP THEM CONNECT: Save the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number (1-800-273-TALK) and the Crisis Text Line (741741) in your phone so they are there if you need them. You can also help
make a connection with a trusted individual like a family member, friend, spiritual advisor, or mental health professional. Access or reach out at (844) 472-3345.

5. STAY CONNECTED: Staying in touch after a crisis or after being discharged from care can make a difference. Studies have shown the number of suicide deaths goes down when someone follows up with
the at-risk person.

Instructional Practices include ways to:

• Be authentic when talking with the person. Talk openly and honestly; he/she will not expect to hear the perfect words but will sense the concern for their well-being when they feel the honesty and pure intent.
Just listen. The suicidal person may need to simply vent their feelings, anger, or frustrations, however hostile or intense their emotions may seem at that moment. In general, be more of a listener and less of a talker in this situation. Remember: their willingness to express themselves and unload is a positive sign.
• Be sympathetic, understanding, patient, and calm. It takes a lot of strength and courage for a suicidal person to share their story with someone. If they are able to open up, they are relying on  others to be accepting and non-judgmental about whatever they have to say. 
• Be direct and matter-of-fact about suicide. Do not tiptoe around the subject for fear of putting ideas into the person's head. Listening to their concerns and tackling the subject head-on is the best way to show comfort in discussing it, and that they have found a trusted confidante.
• Offer hope when they need it most. Offering unconditional support and encouragement can be crucial to a person contemplating suicide. Let them know they can seek professional help and reassure them that their feelings are temporary, and their presence in life is valued. 

Suggested Resources

Safe2Help Illinois Website Resources:

Helping a Friend at Risk of Suicide Provides a list of suggested actions to take when concerned about a friend.

Suicidal Thoughts Teens learn the warning sign of suicide personally and within others.

Creating a Safety Plan Allows students to outline personal strategies that can be used to deal with any negative thoughts and emotions.

ID Your Feelings Allows student to think through their feelings to identify the cause. They will also be able to identify ways of coping with their feelings.

• Write A No Send Letter. It can be hard to share feelings with someone when feeling hurt, angry or anxious. Sometimes it helps to write that person a letter -- with no intention of ever sending it. It’s an easy way to get feelings out on paper especially when not wanting or being able to share those thoughts and feelings right then.

Other Resources:

Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA) Youth Mental Health First Aid is designed to teach parents, family members, caregivers, teachers, school staff, peers, neighbors, health and human services workers, and other caring citizens how to help an adolescent (age 12-18) who is experiencing a mental health or addictions challenge or is in crisis. Youth Mental Health First Aid is primarily designed for adults who regularly interact with young people. The course introduces common mental health challenges for youth, reviews typical adolescent development, and teaches a 5-step action plan for how to help young people in both crisis and non-crisis situations. Topics covered include anxiety, depression, substance use, disorders in which psychosis may occur, disruptive behavior disorders (including AD/HD), and eating disorders.

Stress Catcher from The National Institute of Mental Health create a fun and interactive way for children to practice coping strategies
Illinois Department of Public Health The Illinois Suicide Prevention Strategic Plan, released in 2020, is a comprehensive, public health-based strategy to prevent suicide. It is the second of a three-step process initiated last year to reverse the relentlessly increasing suicide rates in the State of Illinois.

Illinois Youth Suicide Prevention Toolkit This Toolkit is an ISBE resource for Administrators, Counselors, Teachers, and Staff.

• In Illinois, AnnMarie’s Law (Public Act 99-0443) requires all districts to adopt a suicide prevention policy and procedures. ISBE and stakeholders adopted Illinois Association of School Board’s PRESS policy 7:290, Suicide and Depression Awareness and Prevention, pursuant to 105 ILCS 5/2-3.163, amended by P.A. 99-443 as a model policy. Any school or district who requests a copy will receive it free, regardless of membership status. To request a copy of the model youth suicide awareness and prevention policy, please email the Illinois Association of School Boards with the subject line of Suicide  awareness & Prevention Policy Request. IASB wishes to thank and acknowledge the IASB PRESS Advisory Board who reviewed the sample policy. For more information, please visit the Illinois Association of School Boards Suicide and Depression Awareness and Prevention Policy page. ISBE and the stakeholder group and others created a Illinois Youth Suicide Prevention Toolkit. This Toolkit is organized into three Modules: 1) Prevention, 2) Intervention, and 3) Postvention.

Preventing Suicide Technical Package The strategies represented in this CDC Preventing Suicide package include those with a focus on preventing the risk of suicide in the first place as well as approaches to lessen the immediate and long-term harms of suicidal behavior for individuals, families, communities, and society. These strategies include strengthening economic supports; strengthening access and delivery of suicide care; creating protective environments; promoting connectedness; teaching coping and problem-solving skills; identifying and supporting people at risk; and lessening harms and preventing future risk. The strategies in the technical package support the goals and objectives of the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention and the National Action Alliance for Suicide Prevention.

Suicide Prevention Month Ideas for Action Suicide Prevention Resource Center provides activities, videos, and resources to support suicide prevention month.

A Journey Toward Health and Hope The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services Division of Prevention, Traumatic Stress, and Special Programs Suicide Prevention Branch provide a guide to help take the first steps toward recovery after a suicide attempt. This resource contains experiences of individuals, some named, some anonymous, who have survived a suicide attempt. This resource contains interactive activities to help process and begin the journey to recovery.

• Are Classrooms Ready for Trauma? Studies show that 1 in 10 students have experienced Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) that can affect social, psychological, cognitive, and biological issues and cause difficulty regulating emotions, paying attention, forming good relationships. Trauma impacts student behavior and their ability to learn. This resource includes strategies for the classroom  including recognizing survival mode, creating calm and predictable transitions, and effective ways to offer praise.

Effective Suicide Prevention This video provides a brief overview of the Suicide Prevention Resource Center’s Effective Suicide Prevention Model to help carry out suicide prevention efforts that are most likely to be effective.

Preventing Youth Suicide: Tips for Parents & Educators Suicide prevention should be an integral component of a multi-tiered system of mental health and safety supports. The National Association of School Psychologists site provides tips for teens, information for administration and crisis teams, facts and tips for parents and educators, and a model school district suicide prevention policy. 

Holding on to Life Toolkit Michigan’s Holding On To Life Toolkit contains information on: why are adolescents so moody, what should I remove from my home right now, how do I know if a loved one is suicidal, do I need to watch for suicide, how to handle the return to school, what should I say to a love one, why am I feeling this way, and how should I help. It also includes a section on safety planning and a “my safety plan” worksheet.

Preventing Suicide: The Role of High School Teachers The Suicide Prevention Resource Center provides key steps to reduce suicide risk among students. This resource includes tips to identify who might be at risk, signs of immediate or serious risk, responses to at risk students, responding to a suicide death, and school wide suicide prevention.

US Department of Health and Human Services: How You Can Play a Role in Preventing Suicide The effects of suicide are not limited to those who die. Suicide is a serious public health problem that has shattered the lives of millions of people, families, and communities nationwide. We can all take action to reduce its toll. A variety of strategies are available for individuals and organizations across the United States to help prevent suicide.

Suicidal Behavior Among Illinois Youth Factsheet presented by the Illinois Department of Public Health.

After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), two of the nation’s leading suicide prevention  organizations, have collaborated to produce this toolkit to assist schools in the aftermath of a suicide (or other death) in the school community.

Sample Classroom Strategies

IL SEL Standards:

Goal 1: Develop self-awareness and self-management skills to achieve school and life success.
Goal 2: Use social-awareness and interpersonal skills to establish and maintain positive relationships.
Goal 3: Demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behaviors in personal, school, and community contexts.

These activities can be used to address the Illinois SEL Standards.

a. Suicide Prevention Lesson Activities

o Suicide Prevention from Suicide is the third-leading cause of death for teens, after accidents and homicide. About 1 in 15 high school students attempt suicide each year, and roughly 1 in 50 make an attempt serious enough to require medical attention. Peers and teachers are often the first ones to notice the warning signs – if they know what to look for. These activities will help students understand when and how to get help for themselves or classmates.

o Suicide Prevention from The objectives of these activities are to: 1) Learn key concepts of suicide prevention; 2) Understand the characteristics of students who are at higher risk to attempt suicide; 3) Know warning signs of suicidal teens; 4) Know what to do if a friend is suicidal,; 5) Practice needed skills by studying stories of suicidal teenagers; and 6)Discern facts and myths of  suicide.

b. Discuss factors that cause both positive and negative stress.
c. Identify physical reactions to stress (increased energy, increased heart rate, respiration, sweaty palms, red face, etc.).
d. Brainstorm strategies to reduce stress (talking to a friend or trusted adult, physical exercise).
e. Create a list of stress management skills that work best for the students in the class.

f. Allow students to share what they feel are strengths and weaknesses and how that influences their choices and decisions.
g. Support goal setting skill development
• Have students set goals they expect to achieve in a month or two in academic performance.
• Brainstorm possible obstacles to achieving the goals that have been set.
• Identify people who can help achieve the goals and how to make adjustments if needed.
• Model how to monitor an action plan created to achieve long-term goals.
h. Evaluate strategies for resisting pressures to engage in unsafe or unethical activities.