5 things educators should know when talking about suicide

Being armed with facts about suicide prevention in schools is important
By: | January 24, 2020
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Mindy Nichamin is senior marketing manager of Kognito, a youth suicide prevention program resource.

Mindy Nichamin is senior marketing manager of Kognito, a youth suicide prevention program resource.

Suicide touches all of us. For educators, alarming trends in death by suicide among children and teens have made suicide prevention in schools a mental health topic that is unavoidable.

Being armed with facts about suicide prevention in schools can help educators use their best judgment when it comes to approaching their students. Here are five things that educators should know about suicide prevention for teens.

1. Everyone at school has a role to play

School counselors or mental health professionals aren’t the only ones equipped to address student mental health. When it comes to the well-being of students, educators in particular play an important role. They observe and interact with students on a daily basis, and their time spent with students makes them more attuned to changes and warning signs of self-harm.

While suicide is a sensitive and serious subject, the reality is that everyone—teachers, aides, administrators, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, after-school coordinators, administrators, and even other students—plays a role as the eyes and ears of suicide prevention in schools.

2. It’s OK to ask about suicide

Many people assume that bringing up the topic of suicide will make someone more likely to harm themselves. Not necessarily. While it is important to be mindful in these conversations, studies show that acknowledging and talking about suicide may, in fact, reduce suicidal ideation, rather than increase it. Therefore, the importance of talking about it in some instances can outweigh the barriers or hesitation.

While suicide is a sensitive and serious subject, the reality is that everyone—teachers, aides, administrators, cafeteria workers, bus drivers, after-school coordinators, administrators, and even other students—plays a role as the eyes and ears of suicide prevention in schools.

3. Know the warning signs

Four out of 5 teens who attempt suicide will give a clear warning. While warning signs do not stem from a single cause, knowing the warning signs can help make educators ready to intervene.

A common warning sign of a student contemplating suicide is talking about suicide itself, as well as feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness. A list of warning signs is available here.

4. Know where to go for help

Many of us keep a list of emergency phone numbers handy, and it’s a good idea to have a list of suicide prevention resources.


Read: Student suicide tops concerns as schools open


Teachers may be familiar with counseling resources in their own schools, and should be prepared to emphasize these resources as available for students. Sometimes that can involve a sign in the classroom, a verbal mention, or offering to accompany a student to a school counselor.

Community resources and national ones, such as the Crisis Text Line and National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, are also good ones to know.

5. One conversation can make a difference

Stepping in to have a conversation about mental health doesn’t have to be hard; it just takes a little preparation and a mindful approach. At Kognito, our simulations were designed to allow educators to practice different approaches to conversations. Remembering to listen and asking open-ended questions are some strategies that can get students to open up and build trust.

Ultimately, educators play a role in motivating students to seek help and in overall suicide prevention in schools. One conversation really does make a difference and will signal to a troubled student that someone cares about them.


Mindy Nichamin is senior marketing manager of Kognito, a youth suicide prevention program resource.