Florida School Toolkit for K-12 Educators to Prevent Suicide

The foundation of youth suicide is an untreated or undertreated mental illness often in combination with adverse childhood experiences, which are all the things we do not want a child to experience. The most commonly identified adverse childhood experiences are rejection from a natural parent; physical, emotional, or sexual abuse; living with a mentally ill parent, a substance abusing parent, or in poverty; and experiencing multiple losses. The Suicide Prevention Resource Center Brief on Suicide and Bullying emphasized there is a strong association between bullying and suicide, but it is difficult to rule out the impact of adverse childhood experiences and mental illness. My strongest recommendation is when we know a child is involved in bullying as either the bully or the victim, we should not hesitate to ask them direct questions about hopelessness, thoughts of giving up, and suicide. 49. As a counselor I really struggle with whether I should tell the parents of an 18-year-old student that he or she is suspected of being suicidal. What are your thoughts on this? I believe strongly that the parents of any high school student, regardless of their age, should be notified of suspected suicidal behavior. This was one of the key questions in the 2016 case Gallagher vs. Bader. I was on the side of plaintiff in this recently settled case that was before the Virginia Supreme Court. The family of Jay Gallagher in Loudoun, Virginia, was stopped from suing the school district due to a Virginia law that does not allow a district to be sued. The plaintiffs instead sued the high school counselor. One of the reasons the counselor chose not to contact Gallagher’s parents was the fact that he had recently turned 18. I have never known of an 18-year-old who provided all of their own support, such as filing tax returns and earning the income for their housing and welfare. Additionally, everything we know about brain development is that 18-year old individuals are not adults. I recommend that, if an 18-year-old is suspected of being suicidal, their parents be notified, as FERPA 99.36(a) says in an emergency situation, everybody who needs to know should be notified for the safety and welfare of all concerned. 50. As a school counselor, how much emphasis should be placed on a peer report that their friend is suicidal? I believe strongly that friends know much more about what is actually going on in the life of another peer than adults do. If a peer reports that their friend, Sam for example, is suicidal then take it very seriously and immediately bring Sam to the counseling office and ask him directly about thoughts of suicide. If he denies it, and it is common for a student to initially deny being suicidal, then my recommendation would be with Sam in your office to contact his parents to let them know that you were given a reason to believe that Sam was suicidal but when asked directly, he denied it. However, as his parents you need to know and please come to my office immediately so that we can all conference together and figure out the best way to support Sam. Responding to peer reporting and having a student suspected of being suicidal but denying it were all issues in the Gallagher vs. Bader case cited in a previous question. 51. When should children be told the truth that the death was suicide? I t is very important not to lie to children and to tell them the truth in developmentally appropriate language. I have met a number of students in my career that found out years later about the suicide of their favorite aunt for example. I told my son, at age eight, about the suicide of the grandfather that he would never meet. My son said that I lied to him as I had told him that my father had a heart attack. I responded that I did not lie as he had a heart attack a few weeks before his suicide. I was waiting until I thought he was old enough to Florida S.T.E.P.S.