Implementing The Model School District Policy On Suicide Prevention: Part II
By Kristina Kins & Brandon Combs
Editor’s Note: At SSWN we periodically invite colleagues and programs to write about their work and to share their open-access resources with the larger SSWN readership. Today we start a 5-part series with our colleagues at Erika’s Lighthouse (EL), where EL leaders Brandon Combs and Kristina Kins will share how Erika’s Lighthouse programs offer depression education to schools and seek to build school capacity to implement this work around the country. Full disclosure: I (Dr. Kelly) was led two independent evaluations of previous versions of EL programs that were published in peer-reviewed social work journals, which you can find here and here. These articles represent the views of EL, and we welcome them sharing their perspectives here. If you have an organization or program that you’d like to share with SSWN readers, let us know at our idea form here.
Professional Development: Aligning Your Team
An important part of a well-rounded school policy around suicide prevention is alignment across various levels within a school or district, including all staff. Students spend most of their time each day in school and, for that reason, adults in a school setting are often the first to notice that something might be amiss for a student.
Being able to recognize the signs and symptoms of depression and suicidal ideation is important. In addition, teens are encouraged to identify their Trusted Adults in the event they need to find help for themselves or a friend.
It is a responsible approach for schools to include and provide all staff training around depression and suicide and to establish a protocol to support struggling students.
In a school staff training session, inevitably a teacher will raise their hand and ask “What if I’m the Trusted Adult?” It is a question asked with deep concern and a hint of fear. And it is essential that every school staff person can answer the question and follow school protocol to support the student.
The Model School Policy supports professional development for all school personnel about the warning signs of suicide, “ideally at least one hour every year for all school staff, including bus drivers, cafeteria staff, coaches, security, etc. — on suicide prevention, including education about mental health and warning signs or risk.” Further, many states now have mandates for schools to provide training and education for staff members.
Erika’s Lighthouse can support this recommendation and provide the necessary training to schools. An important aspect of this professional development should include how to respond if a student approaches an adult for help. In addition, a coordinated approach through a single provider can further the adoption of a shared vocabulary across the entire school community, an important aspect of a high-quality Tier 1 program.
Supporting Development & Preparedness
Erika’s Lighthouse offers a free webinar available for schools to use to train their staff on this topic. The three-part webinar is ideal for both in-person and/or online access to the training modules, which include education on the signs and symptoms of depression and suicide, an introduction to Erika’s Lighthouse education programs, and covering how to help a student. In its entirety, the training is two hours but can be completed in 3-4 sessions as time permits.
Aligning all school personnel with the same vocabulary, messaging, tone, and understanding of school policy and approach to mental health and suicide prevention programs will increase program efficacy and efficiency.
Join us for three future posts detailing specific areas of implementation of the district policy, covering: Part 3: Classroom Programming: Educating & Identifying Students, Part 4: Parent Engagement: Supporting Students Outside the Classroom, Part 5: Teen Engagement: Creating Inclusive School Communities.
Access all the free resources provided by Erika’s Lighthouse at ErikasLighthouse.org.