Postvention – Guide for NY Schools
The death of a student or staff member present challenges to the school community. When the death is by suicide there can be even greater challenges. The complex nature of suicide grief, the sudden, unexpected, and often violent aspects of this kind of loss, and the difficulty we have understanding and talking about suicide create the circumstances that can leave school leaders in shock and struggling to meet the needs of staff and students.
Written protocols, policy, preplanning, well-defined roles, and professional development specific to suicide loss are essential supports that enable school leaders and crisis team members to respond in a coordinated and effective manner. After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools, published in 2018 by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) and the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC), can be used in the immediate aftermath of a suicide death.
Chapter 3 in Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for High Schools has information and templates that can be helpful for policy development and preplanning. Additionally, AFSP, The Trevor Project, and National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) document Model School District Policy for Suicide Prevention has a section devoted to suicide postvention guidance.
The Suicide Prevention Center of New York has resource staff who are connected to local resources across NYS that can support schools with short- term and long-term recovery needs through direct consultation and telephone support, or professional development workshops. They support crisis team development through consultation and training based on the Lifelines Postvention: Responding to Suicide and Other Traumatic Death model (Underwood, 2017).
The goals of postvention should be to resolve the crisis and restore the learning environment, provide appropriate information about the crisis, identify students and staff who may be affected and assure grief and trauma supports are in place, and identify those who may be at risk. A word about suicide contagion. Research has demonstrated that exposure to suicide within one’s family, in one’s peer group, school community, or even through medial sources, can result in increased suicidal behavior and death in others. Direct or indirect exposure to suicidal behavior or suicide death has shown to increase suicide risk in others, especially adolescents and young adults. This risk can be minimized by efforts to provide factual and concise information, offering access to grief and crisis supports, and by checking in with students and staff members who may be vulnerable. (HHS, 2019)