Bullying is a significant problem in schools across California and throughout the United States. A grim reality in the 21st century is that student suicides oftentimes are connected to bullying. There are a variety of crucial facts and factors that teachers, administrators, and other school personnel must understand when it comes to bullying and suicide. These include:
- Basic data on bullying and suicide
- Overview of bullying prevention strategies
- Overview of suicide prevention strategies
Basic Data on Bullying and Suicide
Teachers, administrators, and other school personnel must understand that bullying is a factor underpinning a significant percentage of youth suicides. The stark reality is that bullying can result in severe depression as well as intense anxiety. A student can be left in a desperate situation in which he or she believes that suicide is the only viable way to escape what feels like a truly desperate situation.
Every state in the country has passed anti-bullying legislation, including California. California enacted Assembly Bill 2246, legislation that requires schools to provide suicide prevention training for teachers. The legislation identifies high-risk groups for suicide.
In the final analysis, schools must become more proactive in addressing bullying and in implementing suicide prevention programs. These efforts need to be undertaken with parents as well as other community members.
Overview of Bullying Prevention Strategies
Experience and research have resulted in the identification of a number of strategies that prove effective when it comes to bullying prevention, including in a school setting. It is vital that teachers, administrators, and others in a school setting familiarize themselves with these tactics and employ them as necessary:
- Implement a school-wide or even district-wide anti-bullying program through which all staff are committed to and strive towards the common goal of reducing the incidence of bullying.
- Survey the student population to determine the nature and extent of the bullying problem.
- Solicit recommendations from the student population in regard to ways to reduce bullying.
- Recognize that LGBTQ youth are oftentimes the targets of pervasive, persistent bullying.
- Increase support for LGBTQ students., including the provision of resources that can include the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network.
- Implement programming designed to reach out to bystanders to obtain a commitment from these individuals to stop bullying when it occurs.
- Bystanders need training to be capable of providing emotional support for a victim of bullying.
- Involve parents in bullying prevention efforts, with a particular focus on reducing cyberbullying.
- Educate staff to promptly recognize bullying and to take immediate action to stop it when it occurs.
- Staff needs to be trained to engage a bully and let such an individual know that there are consequences to bullying.
- Staff also needs to be trained in ways to ensure a victim knows the importance of confiding in staff about bullying.
- Increase overall staff supervision in those areas in which bullying most commonly is found to occur.
Overview of Suicide Prevention Strategies
As mentioned previously, an underlying motivator for a student to attempt to take his or her life is bullying victimization. School personnel need to be fully apprised of strategies demonstrated helpful in preventing suicide among students. It is important to bear in mind that while suicide is more commonplace among high school students, middle and elementary school children are also dying by suicide with alarming regularity in this day and age. Suicide prevention tactics that school personnel need to employ include:
- Annual training involving all school personnel that identifies the warning signs of suicide and how to increase support for students with suicidal thoughts or ideations.
- Implement programs like SafeSchools that allow teachers, students, and parents the ability to report anonymously bullying and other incidents.
- Review and understand suicide prevention requirements for schools in your jurisdiction to ensure compliance.
- Ensure that your school or district has a comprehensive suicide prevention policy.
- Identify community resources and specific intervention support services available in the community.
- Provide mental health presentations for parents that include suicide prevention information.
- Provide information on the school district’s website pertaining to the warning signs of depression, bullying victimization, and suicide.
- Provide local, state, and national crisis hotline phone numbers and text lines accessible to students and parents alike.
- Create a suicide prevention task force that includes school staff together with specialists from community agencies and organizations.
- Implement secondary depression screening that includes signs of suicide.
- Designate a suicide prevention “expert” at your school and get that individual appropriately credentialed via the American Association of Suicidology.
- Recognize that LGBTQ youth attempt and die by suicide at a rate four times greater than their heterosexual peers.
By employing these strategies, schools are better able to provide support, services, and resources to combat bullying and to intercede more effectively in preventing suicide and suicide attempts among students. These tactics are demonstrated effective at lowering both the incidence of bullying and suicide among school-aged youth.