Implementing The Model School District Policy On Suicide Prevention
by Brandon Combs & Kristina Kins, Erika’s Lighthouse
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) 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. This 5-part series of articles by Brandon and Kristina that starts today 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.
Framing District Policy: Depression Education is Suicide Prevention
In a recent conversation with a leader in a major urban district, Erika’s Lighthouse shared the position that Depression Education is Suicide Prevention. Immediately, she replied, “Yes! That needs to be our vision. Depression Education is Suicide Prevention!”
That has been the vision of Erika’s Lighthouse for the past 16 years and will continue for the next. As providers of high-quality curriculum, parent engagement, and teen empowerment resources – Erika’s Lighthouse knows how to work effectively with school districts, mental health professionals, and educators to implement effective programming that meets the needs of students, parents, and teachers alike. All with free programs and support.
The Model School District Policy on Suicide Prevention lays out a strong framework for schools to ensure suicide prevention efforts are aligned and effective.
However, implementation is left to individual districts. Framing that policy in a Depression Education mindset helps to not only improve suicide awareness for all students but also teach students about other mental health challenges.
An Opportunity to Expand the Focus
Erika’s Lighthouse supports the Model School Policy in the development of a suicide prevention task force with school-based coordinators but suggests expanding the scope to educate students about depression and mental health and to work closely with existing school mental health initiatives.
The close link between suicide and mental illness and the effective implementation of depression education inextricably closes the gap between these issues.
We know that depression is far more prevalent than suicide. There is a unique and incontrovertible link between depression, mental health, and suicide. These two statements support the idea that effective depression education IS suicide prevention.
In addition, depression education informs and supports suicide prevention efforts. The decision between which path to take is not an either/or – but a both/and solution. The warning signs and symptoms of depression and suicide are remarkably similar – likely because the leading mental health condition related to suicide is depression.
The comparison of signs and symptoms exemplifies how depression education may benefit the early identification and intervention of youth at risk of suicide. Considering that 31% of high school students reported having symptoms of depression in a given year, early identification of those students is imperative. Teaching about depression allows all students the opportunity to learn about the signs and symptoms and teaches them important help-seeking skills. It not only helps students struggling with mental health challenges self-identify but also those experiencing suicidal ideation.
We know schools benefit from a broader discussion of mental health and depression because it:
- Is relevant to the entire population of students.
- Addresses many of the issues that impact a student’s ability to learn and perform any given day – attendance, achievement, behaviors, and others.
- Reduces stigma and builds a climate of good mental health within a school.
- Promotes early identification, intervention, and help-seeking among teens.
- Supports all students, not just those with suicidal ideation.
- Allows impactful, meaningful conversations among all students to help them understand their peers.
Making It Easy
Creating a district policy doesn’t have to feel overwhelming. Erika’s Lighthouse has a number of templates available on the Erika’s Lighthouse Resource Portal, including:
- Sample Mental Health Protocol
- Classroom Accommodations Sample
- Student Assessment Protocol Sample
- Intervention Language for Educators
- Immediate Intervention Protocol Sample
- Mental Health Checklist
Join us for four future posts detailing specific areas of implementation of the district policy, covering: Part 2: Professional Development: Aligning Your Team, Part 3: Classroom Programming: Educating & Identifying Students, Part 4: Parent Engagement: Supporting Students Outside the Classroom, and Part 5: Teen Engagement: Creating Inclusive School Communities.
Access all the free resources provided by Erika’s Lighthouse at ErikasLighthouse.org.