According to Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation, suicide is now the second-leading cause of death among tweens and teens, and young African Americans have the fastest-growing suicide rate in the state. Visit www.ohiospf.org.
Suicide was the leading cause of death for children ages 10 to 14 in Ohio in 2019, according to a report from the Ohio Department of Health about suicide in Ohio.
Ohio Dept. of Education and Teen Suicide
The following is an excerpt from ODE’s website:
Q. Teen suicide rates have been steadily increasing since 2007. Why the rise and how much of a role does social media play?
A. That is the million dollar question. The unfortunate reality is that we don’t have one direct reason we can point to for the increased rates of youth suicide. There is research out there looking at the link between social media and suicide, and bullying and suicide. We do know that youth who spend more time on social media report higher levels of depression. But even at that level, it is just a link. Same with bullying and suicide. Youth do have a lot more pressures today. There are concerns regarding the expectations for youth to succeed in terms of grade-point averages even above 4.0. There are concerns as far as expectations for youth to be in a million different activities. Is all that contributing to it as well, because they are not learning how to manage all the stress that is present in their lives? There is also some theorizing going on as to whether or not there is increased acceptance of suicide in our youth that wasn’t there before. Are they seeing it as a more acceptable action than they used to?
The experts at the Ohio Suicide Prevention Foundation say while teens are known for being moody, we (as parents, teachers and other important people in the lives of youth) must learn the warning signs of suicide so that we are aware when it may be something more. The major warning signs for suicide include: threatening to hurt or kill oneself, seeking a means to kill oneself, hopelessness, increasing alcohol or drug use, dramatic mood changes. These warning signs indicate that someone may be at immediate risk for suicide and you should seek help without delay. www.education.ohio.gov.
The Ohio School Board Association lists the following resources: After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools; Suicide Prevention Crisis Tips Fact Sheet; Helping your school prevent youth suicide presentation slides.
In an effort to combat youth suicides, the Ohio House of Representatives voted in 2019 to pass a bill (HB 123) that would require school districts to assist students in need of support. If the measure is signed into law, districts would have to establish a threat-assessment team and contract with an anonymous reporting system that operates 24-7. Students, parents and staff would be able to send in safety tips and report the data to state officials, who already operate a free tip-line service available to all districts. School districts would also be required to train employees and teach students in sixth through 12th grades social inclusion, violence prevention and how to identify the signs of depression, suicide and self-harm. Districts would be required to designate a student-led group at each school to focus on suicide awareness, violence prevention and social inclusion. HB 123 currently stands in the Senate committee.
What is the Role of Schools in Suicide Prevention?
Children and teens spend significant time at school Monday through Friday. They spend time with coaches during sporting practices and events. They spend time with school staff during extracurricular activities.
The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention wants states to require regular suicide prevention training for teachers and other school personnel who interact regularly with students so that they may assist vulnerable youth in accessing the services they need. Training school personnel to understand suicide risk builds the skills needed to know when and how to refer students to an appropriate health or mental health professional.
One study, published in the 2011 journal School Mental Health, examined teacher roles in the implementation of a district-wide suicide prevention program through focus groups and interviews with middle school teachers, administrators, and other school personnel. Study results highlighted teachers’ critical role in detecting students at risk for suicide. Factors that appeared to facilitate teacher participation in the suicide prevention program included well-defined crisis policies and procedures, communication of these procedures, collaboration across staff, and the presence of on-campus mental health resources. Participants identified a need for direct teacher training on risk factors for suicide, crisis response, and classroom management. Other strategies for improving suicide prevention efforts included in-school trainings on mental health resources and procedures, regular updates to these trainings, and greater visibility of mental health staff.
I am in favor of school-based suicide prevention and education programs in Ohio schools. However, schools need to receive annually funding for these programs. And schools need funding to hire more mental health therapists and school counselors to address suicide prevention and intervention.
Melissa Martin, Ph.D. is an author, columnist, educator, and therapist. She lives in Scioto County.