Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death overall in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. National Institutes of Health. On average, approximately 48,000 people die by suicide in the United States annually. There are about two and a half times as many suicides in the U.S.A. as there are homicides in recent years. Suicidologists and other associated professionals maintain that a positive suicide postvention action plan, with an associated coordinated community response, is a key element of suicide prevention. A community response as part of a suicide postvention effort needs to include:
- Proper information about a suicide death and suicide more generally in traditional media and social media
- Available mental health support resources for community members
- Support for first responders
- Special support services and resources in the event of a student suicide death
- Reliable, reputable suicide cleanup services
Proper Information About a Suicide Death and Suicide More Generally in Traditional Media and Social Media
When it comes suicide postvention and a community response, another key task is to ensure that traditional media as well as social media provide proper information about a particular suicide death as well as death by suicide more generally. The World Health Organization has created a comprehensive text for media professionals who must deal with reporting about suicide: Preventing Suicide: A Resource for Media Professionals.
There are four primary principles a representative of the media needs to bear in mind when it comes to reporting about a student death by suicide (or any other suicide death, for that matter):
- Avoid using phrases like “successful suicide” and “commit suicide”
- Avoid including too many details in a report about the means used by a person who died by suicide
- Do not indicate that a suicide was the result of a single event
- Always include suicide helpline information in a report
Available Mental Health Support Resources for Community Members
Two important considerations are part of suicide postvention and the availability of mental health support services for members of the community. First, these types of resources need to be readily available to members of the community. Second, members of the community need to understand where and how to access these mental health services.
Examples of appropriate suicide postvention mental health services include:
- Grief counselors (including grief counselors who work specifically with survivors of suicide loss)
- Grief support groups (including those with a focus on the needs of survivors of suicide loss)
Support for First Responders
In the aftermath of a death by suicide, a community needs to focus special attention on first responders whose professions are involved in responding to this type of death. The stark reality is that a death by suicide oftentimes involves a traumatic death scene. As a consequence, a firm effort must be made to ensure that first responders and similarly situated individuals have access to appropriate mental health support. (PTSD is a common condition among first responders.)
Special Support Services and Resources in the Event of a Student Suicide Death
Any suicide is tragic, of course. A suicide involving a young person presents a wealth of unique, heightened challenges and complications. As a consequence, when it comes to matters of suicide postvention and community response, there are some special considerations to bear in mind when it comes to necessary support services. These include:
An appreciation that a death of a student by suicide impacts a broad swath of people from fellow students to teachers in the school where the young person studied to people in the community at large. As a consequence, when a young person dies by suicide, it is important to ensure that the types of support services discussed previously are accessible to a wider range of people who might be affected in some very real manner as a result of the suicide death of a young person.
Parental sensibilities come into sharp focus when a student has died by suicide. By that it is meant that not only must people associated with a deceased student’s school follow the lead of the young person’s parents following the death of their child, so must the community more broadly. This includes the very fundamental matter of respecting how parents might classify the death of their child. A notable number of parents of a child who died by suicide determine that they do not want others to know the actual cause of their child’s death. There is also a segment of parents who lose a child by suicide who do not accept that this was the manner of death of their child.
In the final analysis, because suicide is considered a public health issue, members of a community need to have an essential understanding of the matters presented in this article. When the level of community awareness concerning these matters associated with suicide prevention and postvention, people in crisis are better served.