October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and a brighter light is being shed on bullying-related suicide. Bullying-related suicide can be connected to any type of bullying, including physical and emotional bullying, cyberbullying, and sexting (circulating suggestive or nude photos or messages about a person). The Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) recently released a resource, Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policy, Programs, and Practices, for guidance and strategies to prevent suicide.

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. In 2015, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 12.5 per 100k. Even more alarming, suicide was the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10-24 in 2015. In particular, students who have been bullied or bully others were more likely to report suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts. The two main feelings cited amongst this age group for these suicidal thoughts and attempts were hopelessness and helplessness.

The CDC recommends the following for schools to aid in suicide prevention efforts:

  • Create a protective environment;
  • Make efforts to promote connectedness throughout both the student body and staff;
  • Teach students coping and problem-solving skills; and
  • Properly train teachers and staff regarding suicide prevention.

Create a Protective Environment

The first method to help students is creating protective environments. The CDC explains that “prevention efforts that focus not only on individual behavior change but on changes to the environment can increase the likelihood of positive behavioral and health outcomes.”  In addition to the environment, creating policies that “promote prosocial behavior (e.g., asking for help), skill building, positive social norms, assessment, referral and access to helping services” are all strategies schools can use to foster a more protective environment.

Efforts to Promote Connectedness Among Students and Staff

Secondly, the CDC suggests schools make efforts to promote connectedness throughout both the student body and staff. Studies have shown “a positive association between social capital (measured through social trust and community/neighborhood engagement), and improved mental health.” By “decreasing isolation, encouraging adaptive coping behaviors, and increasing belongingness, personal value, and worth” schools can serve an integral role in the lives of those both attending and working at the school. Schools can promote connectedness by developing mentorship programs and organizing community engagement activities. Encouraging youth to seek help and confide in their teachers or other trusted adults can combat the helplessness many students feel.

Teach Students Coping and Problem-Solving Skills

Another method the CDC suggests is teaching coping and problem-solving skills. Students can have many sources of conflict in their day-to-day lives, including issues with their peers, family trouble, and social pressure. It is vital for students to learn how to handle challenges and adapt to stress and adversity. In addition to teaching these skills, schools should consider providing opportunities to both practice and reinforce these skills.  In addition to CDC resources, stopbullying.gov released its “Assessing Prevention Capacity and Implementing Change” which contains tools schools can use to build empathy, civility, and inclusion amongst students to prevent bullying and the consequences associated with bullying.

Proper Training for Faculty and Staff

Finally, training teachers and other school staff to identify people who may be at risk of suicide and how to respond effectively is another CDC method to prevent suicide. It’s important to note that schools can face potential liability if a student or employee commits suicide, as school districts have been previously sued under wrongful death claims. As a result, schools should consider implementing proper training for faculty and staff – not only to foster a safer, closer community, but to protect themselves against potentially damaging legal action.

What This Means for You 

Reducing the prevalence of bullying is something all schools strive to do. There are many resources available for schools to help prevent bullying and suicide. The options proposed by the CDC and stopbullying.gov provide schools with options to engage in to improve prevention efforts. Preventing bullying in all forms can improve the health, safety, and well-being of students.