Postvention

Postvention

Postvention happens after a suicide occurs. It involves helping those who were affected by the suicide cope with the loss and reduce the risk of further suicides. 

After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools is an excellent, comprehensive resource. 

 

In the event of a suicide, Hope Squad members receive training that will help them cope with grief, support their peers, and stay connected to those who can help.

Quick Guides

Click here for one-sheet guides for students, parents, educators, counselors, Hope Squad members, and Hope Squad parents. They include reminders and tips about self-care and how to support students and peers.

Aftermath of Death or Suicide - School Procedures

Crisis Response Checklist

Click on the link above for a sample checklist and timeline for how to address a student suicide with administration, faculty and staff, students, crisis response team, student government officers, Hope Squad, and the family of the deceased.

 

Procedures

  1. Get the Facts – consult with law enforcement to confirm the cause of death. Source
  2. If the Cause of Death is Unconfirmed – If the body has not yet been recovered or if there is an ongoing investigation, schools should state the cause of death is still being determined and that additional information will be forthcoming once it has been confirmed. Acknowledge that there are rumors (which are often inaccurate), and remind students that rumors can be deeply hurtful and unfair to the missing/deceased person, their family, and their friends. If there is an ongoing investigation, schools should check with local law enforcement before speaking about the death with students who may need to be interviewed by the authorities. Source
  3. Keep the school open – The school is a magnet in times of crisis.  Collaborate with the district office to establish bell schedules, crisis centers and provide services for students, staff, parents, and witnesses. Source
  4. Contact the family – A visit from the principal and the district’s crisis response coordinator will give added support to the family and provide communication about the district’s postvention procedures.  If the death is a suicide but the family does not want it disclosed, the principal and district representative can explain that students are already talking about the death amongst themselves, and that having adults in the school community talk to students about suicide and its causes can help keep students safe. Source
  5. If the family dos not want the cause of death disclosed – If the family refuses to permit disclosure, schools can state, “The family has requested that information about the cause of death not be shared at this time” and can nevertheless use the opportunity to talk with students about the phenomenon of suicide: “We know there has been a lot of talk about whether this was a suicide death. Since the subject of suicide has been raised, we want to    take this opportunity to give you accurate information about suicide in general, ways to prevent it, and how to get help if you or someone you know is feeling depressed or may be suicidal.” Source
  6. Crisis Team – Assemble the crisis team at the school to discuss the facts, review the postvention procedures and assign responsibilities. Source
  7. Provide fact sheets – Keep parents informed as to warning signs, activities, services and support available at the school. Faculty fact sheets should also include information on bell schedule, debriefing meetings, and crisis center locations. Source
  8. Determine intervention groups – Groups might include the deceased student’s classes, friends, siblings (and their schools), teachers/staff, parents, and community. Source
  9. Grief counseling – Students should be given every opportunity to express their grief in whatever setting is most comfortable: individual or small groups (in the crisis room); in classroom discussions with their teacher and crisis facilitator(s).  Provide for ventilation of feelings and validate all expressions of grief. No large group assemblies.  Provide referrals of community agencies and other available services. Source
  10. Media – Refer media to district’s spokesperson. Intervention and prevention efforts should be emphasized. Additional information – http://www.afsp.org/media, http://www.sprc.org/library/at_a_glance.pdf
  11. No memorials/dedications/plaques – Appropriate activities include donations and letters to the family, charity, or suicide prevention efforts; establish support programs at the school. Additional information – Click Here
  12. Emphasize no one/thing is to blame – Suicide is very complex and cannot be simplified by blaming individuals, drugs, music, or the school. Source
Postvention Preparations and Actions

Postvention Preparation – District Office

  1. Designate a crisis response coordinator – this person would be responsible to assist schools when a crisis arises.  They would go to the school and consult with the school administration on appropriate actions.
  2. Create a community crisis team – effective crisis teams are comprised of mental health professionals from local mental health agencies or hospitals.
  3. Designate media spokesperson – this person would assist the school administration in preparing appropriate media response.

Postvention Actions

  1. District office crisis coordinator and school administration meet to:
    1. Confirm the cause of death
    2. Meet with the deceased’s family
    3. Determine needs of the school
  2. Assemble the crisis team
  3. Meet with faculty and staff as soon as possible:
    1. Introduce the crisis team
    2. Review details of death
    3. Read statement that will be given to teachers to read in the classrooms
    4. Allow discussion, questions and grieving
    5. Offer crisis team assistance for teachers who may not be able to read statement or go to class
    6. Explain plans for the day, including locations of crisis counseling rooms and how to refer students that need assistance
  4. Alert counselors at other schools where siblings are enrolled.
  5. Provide counseling, paying particular attention to friends of the deceased and those students with recent losses or a history of suicide threats or attempts. Some students will need to be seen individually, others may benefit more by sharing in a group.
  6. Prepare a fact sheet for telephone inquiries
  7. Prepare and send out a parent letter giving the facts.
  8. Relay additional information (funeral arrangements, etc.) as it becomes available.
  9. Permit students to attend the funeral with written permission from their parents
  10. Request assistance from the district should additional adults be needed to help in classrooms during the funeral.  Teachers should not be responsible for taking students to a funeral.
  11. Do not glorify suicide with memorials (planting trees, yearbook page, etc.)
  12. Prepare to hold a community meeting in the evening if necessary
  13. At the end of the day hold a second faculty meeting to debrief with the crisis team.
  14. Provide necessary follow-up counseling for students and staff.
  15. Call appropriate departments to delete student’s name from rosters, etc.
  16. Invite parents to clean out their child’s locker.
  17. Log all decisions and actions taken.
Death on Campus
  1. Call 911
  2. Secure the area surrounding the incident moving students to a neutral site
  3. Isolate any witnesses for police interviewing
  4. Decide if it would be best to restrict class movement (no bells), or continue normal schedule.
  5. Send school representative to the hospital (if the victim is transported) to meet with the family and friends who may congregate there.
  6. Inform the staff and student body. Using the public address system or holding an assembly to announce a death is not recommended.  Memos may be sent to the teachers or crisis team members may visit classrooms to convey the information.
  7. Permit students to leave the campus only with parental permission.  Release students to only authorized people.

For more information:  Click Here

Recommendations for Media

Recommendations for Media when Reporting a Suicide

Suicide is a public health issue. Media and online coverage of suicide should be informed by using best practices. Some suicide deaths may be newsworthy. However, the way media covers suicide can influence behavior negatively by contributing to contagion or positively by encouraging help seeking.

Suicide Contagion or “Copycat Suicide” occurs when one or more suicides are reported in a way that contributes to another suicide.

Important Points when Covering Suicide

  • More than 50 research studies worldwide have found that certain types of news coverage can increase the likelihood of suicide in vulnerable individuals. The magnitude of the increase is related to the amount, duration and prominence of coverage.
  • Risk of additional suicides increases when the story explicitly describes the suicide method, uses dramatic/graphic headlines or images, and repeated/extensive coverage sensationalizes or glamorizes a death.
  • Covering suicide carefully, even briefly, can change public misperceptions and correct myths which can encourage those who are vulnerable or at risk to seek help.

Source

Schools are encouraged to share the above information with local media. Schools have the right to allow the media on campus during a crisis. Communication between schools and the media builds a relationship of trust.

Sample Media Statement

To be provided to local media outlets either upon request or proactively.

School personnel were informed by the coroner’s office that a [__]-year-old student at [________] school has died. The cause of death was suicide.

Our thoughts and support go out to [his/her] family and friends at this difficult time.

The school will be hosting a meeting for parents and others in the community at [date/time/location]. Members of the school’s Crisis Response Team [or mental health professionals] will be present to provide information about common reactions following a suicide and how adults can help youths cope.

They will also provide information about suicide and mental illness in adolescents, including risk factors and warning signs of suicide, and will address attendees’ questions and concerns. A meeting announcement has been sent to parents, who can contact school administrators or counselors at [number] or [e-mail address] for more information.

Trained crisis counselors will be available to meet with students and staff starting tomorrow and continuing over the next few weeks as needed.

Source

Sample Staff Meeting Agenda

Allow at least one hour to discuss the following goals:

  1. The school administrator should welcome everyone and introduce the crisis team members.
  2. Share accurate information about the death.
  3. Allow staff an opportunity to express their own reactions and grief. Identify anyone who may need additional support and refer them to appropriate resources.
  4. Provide appropriate faculty (e.g., homeroom teachers or advisors) with a scripted death notification statement for students. Arrange coverage for any staff who are unable to manage reading the statement.
  5. Prepare for student reactions and questions by providing handouts to staff on Talking About Suicide and Facts About Suicide and Mental Disorders in Adolescents.
  6. Explain plans for the day, including locations of crisis counseling rooms.
  7. Remind all staff of the important role they may play in identifying changes in behavior among the students they know and see every day, and discuss plan for handling students who are having difficulty.
  8. Brief staff about identifying and referring at-risk students as well as the need to keep records of those efforts.
  9. Apprise staff of any outside crisis responders or others who will be assisting.
  10. Remind staff of student dismissal protocol for funeral.
  11. Identify which Crisis Response Team member has been designated as the media spokesperson and instruct staff to refer all media inquiries to him or her.
  12. Encourage those students who may be interested to write down their positive memories about the student to be collected and delivered to the parents. The school administrator and crisis team should evaluate these before being delivered.

Source

If a death occurs after school hours, it is helpful to contact the faculty and staff in the evening to invite them to the morning crisis meeting.

End of the First Day

It can also be helpful for the school administrator and crisis team to have an all-staff meeting at the end of the first day. This meeting provides an opportunity to take the following steps:

  • Offer verbal appreciation of the staff.
  • Review the day’s challenges and successes.
  • Debrief, share experiences, express concerns, and ask questions.
  • Check in with staff to assess whether any of them need additional support, and refer accordingly.
  • Disseminate information regarding the death and/or funeral arrangements.
  • Discuss plans for the next day.
  • Remind staff of the importance of self-care.
  • Remind staff of the importance of documenting crisis response efforts for future planning and understanding.

Source

This meeting is also an excellent opportunity for teachers and staff to share their concerns about students who may need additional support.  Also, remind teachers and staff that the school will not be closed for the funeral.  However, students and staff who wish to attend the funeral will be excused from school.

Sample Death Notification Statements for Students (Suicide)

When the Death has been Ruled a Suicide

It is with great sadness that I have to tell you that one of our students, _________, has taken [his/her] own life. All of us want you to know that we are here to help you in any way we can.

A suicide death presents us with many questions that we may not be able to answer right away. Rumors may begin to circulate, and we ask that you not spread rumors you may hear. We’ll do our best to give you accurate information as it becomes known to us.

Suicide is a very complicated act. It is usually caused by a mental disorder such as depression, which can prevent a person from thinking clearly about his or her problems and how to solve them. Sometimes these disorders are not identified or noticed; in other cases, a person with a disorder will show obvious symptoms or signs. One thing is certain: there are treatments that can help. Suicide should never, ever be an option.

Each of us will react to _____’s death in our own way, and we need to be respectful of each other. Feeling sad is a normal response to any loss. Some of you may not have known ______very well and may not be as affected, while others may experience a great deal of sadness. Some of you may find you’re having difficulty concentrating on your schoolwork, and others may find that diving into your work is a good distraction.

We have counselors available to help our school community deal with this sad loss and to enable us to understand more about suicide. If you’d like to talk to a counselor, just let your teachers know.

Please remember that we are all here for you.

Source

Help teachers and staff understand that sharing their emotions as they read a statement can help grieving students. Crisis team members may read statements if too difficult for teachers and staff. Students should be allowed to express feelings.

Sample Death Notification Statements for Students (Unconfirmed)

When the Cause of Death is Unconfirmed

It is with great sadness that I have to tell you that one of our students, _________, has died. All of us want you to know that we are here to help you in any way we can.

The authorities have not yet determined the cause of death. We are aware that there has been some talk about the possibility that this was a suicide death. Rumors may begin to circulate, and we ask that you not spread rumors since they may turn out to be inaccurate and can be deeply hurtful and unfair to _______ as well as [his/her] family and friends. We’ll do our best to give you accurate information as it becomes known to us.

Each of us will react to _____’s death in our own way, and we need to be respectful of each other. Feeling sad is a normal response to any loss. Some of you may not have known _____ very well and may not be as affected, while others may experience a great deal of sadness. Some of you may find you’re having difficulty concentrating on your schoolwork, and others may find that diving into your work is a good distraction. We have counselors available to help our school community deal with this sad loss. If you’d like to talk to a counselor, just let your teachers know.

Please remember that we are all here for you.

Source

Teachers and staff should not feel compelled to rush through daily routine and avoid discussions about the death.  Listening to students’ concerns and feelings will assist them through their grieving process. Teachers need to be cautious and used good judgment to not allow rumors or descriptions of the death that may re-traumatize students. Crisis team members may assist with questions from teachers and staff on how to help students through their grieving process.

Sample Death Notification Statements for Students (Not Disclosed)

When the Cause of Death is not Disclosed

When the family has requested that the cause of death not be disclosed

It is with great sadness that I have to tell you that one of our students, _________, has died. All of us want you to know that we are here to help you in any way we can.

The family has requested that information about the cause of death not be shared at this time.

We are aware that there has been some talk about the possibility that this was a suicide death. Rumors may begin to circulate, and we ask that you not spread rumors since they may turn out to be inaccurate and can be deeply hurtful and unfair to ______ as well as [his/her] family and friends.

We’ll do our best to give you accurate information as it becomes known to us. Since the subject has been raised, we do want to take this opportunity to remind you that suicide, when it does occur, is a very complicated act. It is usually caused by a mental disorder such as depression, which can prevent a person from thinking clearly about his or her problems and how to solve them.

Sometimes these disorders are not identified or noticed; in other cases a person with a disorder will show obvious symptoms or signs. One thing is certain: there are treatments that can help. Suicide should never, ever be an option.

Each of us will react to _____’s death in our own way, and we need to be respectful of each other. Feeling sad is a normal response to any loss. Some of you may not have known ______very well and may not be as affected, while others may experience a great deal of sadness.

Some of you may find you’re having difficulty concentrating on your schoolwork, and others may find that diving into your work is a good distraction. We have counselors available to help our school community deal with this sad loss. If you’d like to talk to a counselor, just let your teachers know.

Please remember that we are all here for you.

Source

Many times information about the death has spread among students.  If students try to share details in the class, teachers need to remind the students to respect the family’s request to not share information about the death at this time.
Sample Death Notification Statements for Parents (Suicide)

When the Death has been Ruled a Suicide

I am writing with great sadness to inform you that one of our students, ________, has died. Our thoughts and sympathies are with [his/her] family and friends.

All of the students were given the news of the death by their teacher in [advisory/homeroom] this morning. I have included a copy of the announcement that was read to them.

The cause of death was suicide. We want to take this opportunity to remind our community that suicide is a very complicated act. It is usually caused by a mental disorder such as depression, which can prevent a person from thinking clearly about his or her problems and how to solve them. Sometimes these disorders are not identified or noticed; other times, a person with a disorder will show obvious symptoms or signs. I am including some information that may be helpful to you in discussing suicide with your child.

Members of our Crisis Response Team are available to meet with students individually and in groups today as well as over the coming days and weeks. Please contact the school office if you feel your child is in need of additional assistance; we have a list of school and community mental health resources.

Information about the funeral service will be made available as soon as we have it. If your child wishes to attend, we strongly encourage you to accompany him or her to the service. If the funeral is scheduled during school hours, students who wish to attend will need parental permission to be released from school.

The school will be hosting a meeting for parents and others in the community at [date/time/location]. Members of our Crisis Response Team [or mental health professionals] will be present to provide information about common reactions following a suicide and how adults can help youths cope. They will also provide information about suicide and mental illness in adolescents, including risk factors and warning signs of suicide, and will address attendees’ questions and concerns.

Please do not hesitate to contact me or one of the school counselors with any questions or concerns.

Sincerely, [Principal]

Source
Sample Death Notification Statements for Parents (Unconfirmed)

When the Cause of Death is Unconfirmed

I am writing with great sadness to inform you that one of our students, ________, has died. Our thoughts and sympathies are with [his/her] family and friends. All of the students were given the news of the death by their teacher in [advisory/homeroom] this morning. I have included a copy of the announcement that was read to them.

The authorities have not yet determined the cause of death. We are aware that there has been some talk about the possibility that this was a suicide death. Rumors may begin to circulate, and we have asked the students not to spread rumors since they may turn out to be inaccurate and can be deeply hurtful and unfair to _______ as well as [his/her] family and friends. We’ll do our best to give you accurate information as it becomes known to us.

Members of our Crisis Response Team are available to meet with students individually and in groups today as well as over the coming days and weeks. Please contact the school office if you feel your child is in need of additional assistance; we have a list of school and community mental health resources.

Information about the funeral service will be made available as soon as we have it. If your child wishes to attend, we strongly encourage you to accompany him or her to the service. If the funeral is scheduled during school hours, students who wish to attend will need parental permission to be released from school.

Please do not hesitate to contact one of the school counselors or me with any questions or concerns.

Sincerely, [Principal]

Source
Sample Death Notification for Parents (Not Disclosed)

When the Cause of Death is Not Disclosed

I am writing with great sadness to inform you that one of our students, ________, has died. Our thoughts and sympathies are with [his/her] family and friends.

All of the students were given the news of the death by their teacher in [advisory/homeroom] this morning. I have included a copy of the announcement that was read to them.

The family has requested that information about the cause of death not be shared at this time. We are aware that there have been rumors that this was a suicide death. Since the subject has been raised, we want to take this opportunity to remind our community that suicide, when it does occur, is a very complicated act.

It is usually caused by a mental disorder such as depression, which can prevent a person from thinking clearly about the problems in his or her life and how to solve them. Sometimes these disorders are not identified or noticed; other times, a person with a disorder will show obvious symptoms or signs.

Members of our Crisis Response Team are available to meet with students individually and in groups today as well as over the coming days and weeks. Please contact the school office if you feel your child is in need of additional assistance; we have a list of additional school and community mental health resources.

Information about the funeral service will be made available as soon as we have it. If your child wishes to attend, we strongly encourage you to accompany him or her to the service. If the funeral is scheduled during school hours, students who wish to attend will need parental permission to be released from school.

Please do not hesitate to contact the school counselors or me with any questions or concerns.

Sincerely, [Principal]

Source
Talking about Suicide

Give accurate information about suicide. Suicide is a complicated behavior. It is not caused by a single event. In many cases, mental health conditions, such as depression, bipolar disorder, PTSD, or psychosis, or a substance use disorder are present leading up to a suicide. Mental health conditions affect how people feel and prevent them from thinking clearly. Having a mental health problem is actually common and nothing to be ashamed of. Help is available. Talking about suicide in a calm, straightforward way does not put the idea into people’s minds. 

Address blaming and scapegoating. It is common to try to answer the question “why?” after a suicide death. Sometimes this turns into blaming others for the death. 

Do not focus on the method. Talking in detail about the method can create images that are upsetting and can increase the risk of imitative behavior by vulnerable individuals. The focus should not be on how someone killed themselves but rather on how to cope with feelings of sadness, loss, anger, etc.

Address anger. Accept expressions of anger at the deceased and explain that these feelings are normal.

Address feelings of responsibility. Help students understand that they are not responsible for the suicide of the deceased. Reassure those who feel responsible or think they could have done something to save the deceased.

Promote help-seeking. Encourage students to seek help from a trusted adult if they or a friend are feeling depressed.

Source

Schools and Families

Helping Children Cope with Grief – ChildMind Institute

Tips broken down into a range of ages and experiences, and information about what to say, who should say it, what to look out for, and how to help.

 

Addressing Grief – NASP

Tips for caregivers, teachers, and administrators, as well as a list of books recommended by grief and crisis experts to use with children who have been affected by the loss. 

 

Lifeline Online Postvention Manual – Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Information about how to distribute information and resources, monitor comments from individuals connected to the deceased, and honor the deceased in a safe way on social media.

Schools

After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools –  AFSP, SPRC, EDC

Developed primarily for administrators and staff in middle and high schools, this comprehensive toolkit focuses on how to respond in the immediate aftermath of a suicide of a student. 

 

After a Suicide: Answering Student Questions – Scott Poland, Co-Director of Suicide and Violence Prevention Office at Nova Southeastern University

Commonly asked questions by students after a suicide and how to respond. 

 

Memorials After a Suicide – Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

Answers common questions about memorials and how to safely honor a student who has died.

 

The Anniversary of a Student Death by Suicide – Jennifer Wright-Berryman, PhD

Suggestions for safe school-based activities to honor a student on the anniversary of his or her death, as well as what kinds of activities to avoid.

Families

Helping a Child Cope with Loss and Grief –  Rebecca Dion, M.S.S., L.C.S.W., Q.C.S.W., C.E.A.P. 

A guide to talking about the loss, answering difficult questions, and helping young children and teenagers cope.

 

When a Child’s Friend Dies by Suicide – Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide

Information for parents about how to deal with personal grief and support a child who has lost a friend to suicide.

 

How to Answer Questions Teens Ask About Suicide – Parents Trauma Resource Center

Questions students may have about suicide, how to help a peer who they believe is at risk for suicide, and what to do if a peer jokes about or threatens suicide.