education.vic.gov.au

School operations

Suicide Response (Postvention)

Immediate response (24 hours to 48 hours)

Image of response times - immediate, short term, longer term. Immediate (24 hours to 48 hours highlighted)

The steps and required actions identified in this stage focus on the important task of informing the school community – staff, students and parents/carers – of the incident (suicide) that has occurred.

A cautionary note regarding the timeframe specified above: in some instances, there may be a delay in receiving initial reports of a suicide that exceeds the 24 to 48-hour timeframe.

    Key actions in this stage include:

    • responding to the physical and emotional safety of students and staff
    • confirming the details of the incident
    • activating the school’s Emergency Management Plan and reporting the incident to Incident Support Operations Centre (ISOC) on 1800 126 126 as soon as practicable to activate additional support from area and regional staff
    • respectfully and sensitively communicating with the bereaved family
    • informing staff, students and other parents/carers
    • supporting the wellbeing of students and staff
    • monitoring and following up on student absences
    • liaising with community youth mental health services and neighbouring schools
    • responding to media and social media content as necessary
    • timely documentation of key actions.

    Remember

    Regardless of the time since the incident occurred, informing the school community remains a priority in order to appropriately identify and support those students who may be at increased risk and/or vulnerability as a result.

    Supporting resources

    Confirm the facts

    Before enacting the school’s response it is important to establish the facts. If the incident happened away from school, find out as many of the facts as possible. Confirm information with the local police or make sensitive enquiries with the parents/carers.

    Investigate rumours, emails, messages and social media posts as quickly as possible.

    Implement the school’s Emergency Management Plan

    The suicide of a student is referred to as an incident under the Department’s Emergency and Critical Incident Management Planning Policy and requires the school to enact the Emergency Management Plan (EMP).

    Remember

    Where an incident involves an international student, and if the information is known, the reporting school must advise ISOC whether the Department has accepted responsibility for ensuring appropriate accommodation and welfare arrangements (for example, if the student is a homestay student). Refer to the Department’s International Student Program Policy for more information.

    In addition to the EMP, the immediate actions outlined below should be undertaken after an incident has been brought to the attention of the school.

    Identifying incident and immediate response

    Identification is when an incident is observed by or disclosed to a member of the school community. This can include disclosure by a student, staff member, family member or other person, to the school. For more information, refer to: Identifying the incident and immediate response.

    Ensure safety (in the event the suicide has occurred onsite):

    • assess the safety of the situation
    • administer first aid/seek medical assistance if appropriate
    • dial 000 to contact emergency services if necessary
    • provide support to any staff or students who witnessed the incident.

    Record evidence

    • Preserve and secure the scene if the incident has occurred on school grounds. This includes limiting exposure of students and staff to the scene by closing off access to paths/windows.
    • Preserve and make a record of any physical or documentary evidence that is located on school premises.
    • If multiple students have witnessed the incident, separate them to preserve the integrity of their evidence until they are interviewed by police, if required, ensuring that they are supported during this time.

    Report for support (onsite incident)

    • Following notification to 000 (if required), the principal or delegate must undertake an initial severity rating of the incident to determine the applicable reporting requirements.
    • In the event of a suicide of the student, the severity rating will be recorded according to the Schools Incident Management System (SIMS), and must be reported to the ISOC on 1800 126 126 as soon as practicable to activate additional support from area and regional staff. The ISOC will record the incident report using the Incident Report and Information SystemExternal Link (IRIS) and a copy of the summary report will automatically be emailed to the school principal and to relevant staff in central office and the region.
    • Where possible, it is important to engage with SSS before communicating with the school community about an incident. This consultation will ensure the communication is planned, verified and done so in a way that minimises potential suicide contagion. This is consistent with the information outlined in the Department’s Managing Trauma: a guide to managing trauma following a critical incident responseExternal Link (staff login required).
    • Consider a Worksafe Notification (13 23 60).

    For more information refer to: Reporting an incident.

    Convene the Incident Management Team

    It is important to convene the Incident Management Team (IMT) following reports that a student has died by suicide, for both onsite and offsite incidents.

    The time immediately following the suicide of a student requires a set of actions to protect the physical and psychological safety and wellbeing of remaining members of the school community.

    The school’s EMP identifies staff who will form part of an IMT and lead the immediate response to the incident, however, to avoid unnecessary distress, a level of flexibility should be applied once the deceased has been identified and any relationship(s) or conflict of interest with staff members on the team established. Actions to promote recovery and restore wellbeing will occur simultaneously with safe and accurate communication to the school community.

    The incident management team should comprise:

    • Members of the leadership team. The principal will typically retain primary responsibility for managing the response, however, there may be times where that is not possible/desirable. Identifying who will be second in charge during the response will ensure communication and decision-making is timely and appropriate.
    • School staff with appropriate skills and training and an aptitude for providing psychological support appropriate to their role.
    • Allied health professionals, including school-based staff, the MHP, SSS, Doctors in Secondary Schools Program GP involved in the care of the young person and/or other members of the regional team relevant to the level of support/resources required.

    Remember

    To remove the student’s name from any automatic communication to the family, including any system that notifies parents or carers when a student is late or absent.

    Following confirmation of the suicide of a student impacting the school community, initiating a meeting with the IMT allows for the coordination and delegation of the tasks required to respond in a timely manner and reduce the potential for additional harm. The IMT is likely to meet every day for the first week. Following this, the IMT will meet as needed.

    Supporting the emotional safety of the IMT

    It is important to recognise that members of the IMT may be too impacted by the death to fulfil their duties in this team. Providing them with appropriate support to withdraw from the IMT will be critical to ensuring their ongoing health and wellbeing.

    Unlike other deaths, responding to the suicide of a young person can impact us in ways that we don’t anticipate. Research has indicated that the emotions of guilt, shame and anger are unique to death by suicide and having our own professional and/or personal experience of suicide can exacerbate our response to these emotions.

    The workplace is a setting for prevention and early intervention and by creating a mentally healthy workplace for staff you are playing a role in promoting and supporting recovery.

    Supporting resource

    Conversations Matter has a range of community resources that can assist you to support the emotional safety of your incident management team. It might be helpful to provide a copy of the resource Those bereaved by suicideExternal Link to your team during the initial briefing with them.

    Understanding the role you play in responding to a critical incident such as a suicide can reduce your own risk of going on to experience long lasting impacts of the incident (Gordon 2013).

    Liaising with the bereaved family

    The loss of a child to suicide is a traumatic event and any communication with the bereaved family should be conducted sensitively and with compassion.

    Remember

    Without consent from the family to refer to the death as a suicide, the appropriate language to use regarding the cause of death is a ‘sudden’ or ‘tragic’ death of a student.

    Important considerations before engaging with the bereaved family:

    • It is critically important to have accurate facts, including confirmation that a death has occurred, before contacting the bereaved family. Consult with the SSS for guidance and support.
    • It is recommended that the school identify one liaison person to be the contact point between school and the family. Consider who is best placed to take on this role given their relationship to the family, the impact of the incident on their wellbeing and their willingness to take on this role.
    • A bereaved family’s availability to communicate with the school will vary greatly and be influenced by a range of factors (relationship with the school, cultural beliefs regarding suicide, grief response).
    • Consider, and be sensitive to, the specific cultural or religious needs of the student and their family/community.
    • Consider if an interpreter is needed. Do not rely on a family member or another student who speaks the same language.
    • In some circumstances it may be appropriate to liaise with a member of the extended family, however, this should only be done with consent from the family.
    • During the initial communication with the family it is important to offer the condolences of the school. It may be appropriate to offer a home visit, where an existing relationship exists. This is routinely offered by a school following a sudden or tragic death of a student and/or where the bereaved families request a face-to-face visit.
    • Offer information about external supports that they can access.
    • Ascertain how they would like the school to refer to the death of their child and obtain consent to refer to their child by name. Referring to a young person by name can be an important step to appropriately identifying those young people most impacted and allow parents of those young people to offer timely support and supervision.
    • If a family does not wish refer to the death as a suicide, they may request that you refer to the death as ‘a sudden death’ or ‘tragic death’. Regardless of how we refer to the death, informing the school community of the death allows the provision of support to be directed to those identified as vulnerable. Refer to Be You – responding to a death that can’t be referred to as a suicideExternal Link for more information about navigating this situation.
    • Seek permission to contact them over the following days.

    Remember

    In Victoria, deaths that appear to have been unexpected, unnatural, violent or to have resulted directly or indirectly from an accident or injury, including suicide deaths, must be investigated by the Coroner, and the Coroner must make a finding as to the cause of death. This investigation takes time and the bereaved family may not wish to refer to the death being due to suicide or suspected suicide before the Coroner makes a finding. There are also circumstances where a Coroner might not be able to find whether a death was due to suicide or accidental.

    Protecting the student’s belongings

    Immediately following news that a student has died by suicide it is important to ensure their belongings are gathered and stored safely at school. Consider whether the student has any work displayed around the school and how best to protect it for the bereaved family.

    How schools sensitively approach collecting and protecting a student’s belongings, including items from their locker, will require careful consideration and decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis in consultation with SSS and school-based wellbeing staff. Before returning the student’s belongings to the family it is important to confirm with the police that the items are not required for any investigations.

    Managing communication

    Informing staff

    Step 1: Confirm language

    Before sharing the news with staff, the principal must:

    • verify what information is confirmed
    • how the cause of death should be referred to.

    This will depend on whether contact has been established with the bereaved family.

    In the absence of consent from the family in the initial stages of communicating the incident to your staff, it may be appropriate to refer to the death as a ‘sudden and unexpected’ or ‘tragic death’. Choose your language carefully. It is important that staff receive the information that will allow them to act in their role as educator holding a duty of care to their students while balancing the privacy and wishes of the bereaved family.

    Remember

    It is important to share only essential information with staff. Do not refer to the method of suicide even if you have this information. Referring to the method can result in increased distress and vulnerability for staff and students alike (Life in Mind – National Communications CharterExternal Link , 2018).

    Step 2: Identify staff who may need to be informed individually

    Where possible, before sharing the news during an all-staff meeting, identify those staff members who you are aware have previous experience/history of suicide or have a relationship/worked closely with the student and would benefit from receiving the news individually.

    In addition, you must identify those staff members who are not currently onsite, including part-time educators, education support staff, volunteers, allied health professionals engaged through the school who have been working closely with the student, staff on extended leave, administration, maintenance staff and Casual Relief Teachers (CRT) and consider the most appropriate method for communicating news of the death.

    Step 3: Convene an all-staff briefing

    Ideally, a staff briefing to communicate that the school community has been impacted by the suicide of a student should be held as soon as practically possible upon receiving confirmation of the incident. Schools will have existing structures/processes in place for convening a staff meeting where information is shared. To minimise the instances that staff do not receive the communication, it is important that you use these existing structures in response to a suicide.

    It is critical that you attempt to balance the need to allow enough time for staff to receive and process the news before facing students and the need to inform your student and parent communities in a timely manner. Refer to Appendix 2External Link for a template of the script to inform staff.

    Consider if you need to organise additional CRTs to cover classes for staff who are engaged in the IMT or who are too distressed to teach that day or for additional coverage during yard duty.

    Supporting resource

    Provide all staff with Self-care for school staff following exposure to a suicide.

    All staff should also be provided with information about the supports available at school and externally in the community (GP, EAP, and access to a private psychologist via the Medicare Access to Enhanced Mental Health Scheme).

    Preparing staff to inform students

    During the initial staff briefing, provide staff with details about how the information will be communicated to students. This step will usually follow immediately after the initial staff briefing or be scheduled at a time in the day when appropriate supports and resources are in place to respond to the increased distress that will likely follow.

    It is strongly recommended that you provide staff with a script to follow when communicating the news to their students to ensure consistent, accurate and safe reporting of the facts available, avoiding reference to method or location of death or other unnecessary information. Allow time for staff to read the script and seek clarification before delivering the information to students. It is critical to explicitly inform staff that they can opt out of communicating the news to students.

    Encourage staff to consider any students within their cohort who may require additional support or personalised approach to the disclosure of the information (for example, may have siblings in the deceased’s class, relationship, previous exposure to suicide or other trauma and so on).

    Provide staff with information about likely reactions and questions students might have, including information about the additional supports that are in place to support students who become distressed. This includes details about the location of the support room and how students can access this.

    The need to communicate news of the student’s death with the student population should be paired with efforts to maintain familiar routines. Engaging in routine activities will benefit both those who have been impacted by the death and those members of the school community who had no relationship or contact with the deceased.

    Supporting resource

    Conversation Matters: When communities are impacted by suicideExternal Link provides a helpful resource about conversations that may arise after a suicide and offers suggestions about how to navigate these safely.

    Preparing staff to respond to questions regarding the cause of death

    Respecting the wishes of the family when referring to the cause of death is essential – it allows the school to maintain its relationship with the family for the purpose of providing support, and for any siblings or family members who may be current or future students.

    General conversations with students about suicide are okay except if confirming that the young person died by suicide goes against the family’s wishes.

    Where young people are talking about suicide, it is important to acknowledge the topic and use the opportunity to promote messages of help-seeking and details about the supports available at school and in the community.

    Demonstrating to a young person that staff can engage in a conversation about suicide, with non-judgmental language, may provide a young person with reassurance that staff can handle their disclosure should they be experiencing suicidal ideation/behaviour themselves. Navigating this topic while maintaining the privacy of the family is complex.

    You might say:

    We have heard students asking about whether (student’s name) died by suicide.

    The family have chosen to keep the cause of death private and information available to us is that they (insert family preference for referring to the death). It is important that we respect the family’s wishes and maintain their privacy and we ask that you do the same.

    Because the topic of suicide has come up it is important that we recognise the reasons for suicide are complex. Sometimes, people experience such intense pain that they choose to end their life to end the pain. If you experience this it is important that you know help is available such as Kids HelplineExternal Link , LifelineExternal Link , Beyond BlueExternal Link and headspaceExternal Link .

    Some points to consider

    Staff might become aware the students are talking about suicide and speculating or suggesting that the cause of death was suicide. These conversations should not go unaddressed and are an opportunity to promote help-seeking.

    Staff might be engaged in an individual conversation with a young person where they repeatedly ask for information regarding the cause of death. It is important that any request by the family to keep the cause of death private is respected. In the first instance it is important to acknowledge the emotional response and desire to understand how the young person died and follow up by asking about how they are coping.

    The purpose of this conversation is to ascertain their level of vulnerability and will indicate the level of support that may be required for the student and the actions the school should take next.

    Remember

    If you suspect someone is thinking of suicide you must ask the question directly. If you do not feel comfortable asking the question you must explain that you are concerned about their wellbeing and, in order to keep them safe, you will go with them to speak with someone who can provide appropriate support immediately, such as a member of the wellbeing team.

    Staff wellbeing upon hearing the news

    Receiving news of a suicide is difficult and staff are likely to be very upset. They may also have personal and/or professional experiences of suicide that will influence how they respond to news of this incident.

    It is the responsibility of IMT to monitor the responses and wellbeing of all members of staff and ensure support is available. During the initial staff briefing let staff know that they can call EAP directly on 1300 361 008 (24 hours a day, 7 days a week) to make an appointment to talk to a counsellor (Employee Health, Safety and Wellbeing ServicesExternal Link ). Where possible, consider making this support available onsite in the initial days of the response.

    Encourage staff to prioritise their mental health and wellbeing needs and know the process for requesting support to manage their regular teaching responsibilities. You might also need to consider how classes may need to be supervised in the event a teacher cannot continue with their duties.

    Informing students

    It is important to begin identifying vulnerable and at-risk students as soon as possible. This allows the school to put in place appropriate supports and to communicate with the parents/carers of these students in a timely way.

    Remember

    The order by which you inform students of the suicide is important as it allows you to nuance your communication and appropriately support students who become distressed.

    The image below provides a visual representation of how the coordination of communication should be structured. While some variation will occur between schools in terms of who (by role) will inform the relevant groups, priority should be given to informing those close friends and vulnerable students first.

    Flowchart to inform students

    Visual representation of how the coordination of communication to students should be structured
    headspace – Responding to the suicide of a student
    Flowchart to inform students

    Details

    The flowchart shows that the coordination of communication to students should be structured as follows:

    1. Inform close friends of the young person and other vulnerable students
    2. Inform the class of the young person
    3. Inform the year group and broader school community of the death

    Presentation

    The flowchart is presented with the text of each step in a box. The boxes are arranged vertically with an arrow leading from the first box to the second and an arrow leading from the second box to the third.

    Download Flowchart to inform students

    Informing close friends of the young person and vulnerable students, including siblings of close friends and other family members at the school

    Key considerations when informing the close friends of the deceased are:

    • Where possible, the close friends of the deceased and vulnerable young people should be told individually with the support of their family and an appropriately trained member of staff who can provide support to effectively manage the emotional distress that news of the death elicits. If close friends of the deceased are absent from school, it is recommended that an appropriate member of staff contact the family to share news of the death and to offer support.
    • Make arrangements for families to collect students (confirming supervision) who prefer to be home with parents upon receiving the news.
    • Provide information about the supports available at school (for example, the school wellbeing team, SSS, days and times available, additional supports in place).
    • Provide information about how to access community support services ( headspaceExternal Link , LifelineExternal Link , Beyond BlueExternal Link , Kids HelplineExternal Link ).
    • Invite students to identify other young people who are close to the deceased.
    • Let them know that the news of the death will be shared with all members of the school community during home group and in a letter/email home to parents at the end of the day (nuance this for your school context).

    Informing the class of the young person

    Ideally, the homeroom teacher or another teacher who is known to the students should provide students with news of the death via the pre-prepared script and:

    • ensure leadership and/or wellbeing staff are in attendance
    • depending on the size of the class, consider whether it is possible to share the news in smaller groups
    • provide information regarding the supports available at school, including accessing the support room as well as information about community support services
    • make arrangements for families to collect students (confirming supervision) who prefer to be home with parents upon receiving the news
    • promote help-seeking messages and self-care.

    Informing students in the class of a sibling/family member/combined family household of the young person

    Ideally, the homeroom teacher or another teacher who is known to the students should provide students with news of the death via the pre-prepared script. Inform the class that information about how to support the sibling when they return to school will be provided later.

    Supporting siblings

    Where possible, liaise with the bereaved family regarding when the sibling is likely to return to school. A plan for their return will help peers and staff understand how best to support the affected student. Ensure that support from the wellbeing teams is considered as part of this return to school plan.

    Informing students in the same and other year groups

    Information relating to the suicide of a student should not be shared in a year level assembly due to the difficulties in recognising distress and vulnerability of students in this format. Ideally, the homeroom teacher or another teacher who is known to the students should provide them with news of the death via the pre-prepared script.

    Student wellbeing upon hearing the news

    Learning of the suicide of a fellow student is distressing and likely to elicit a range of emotional and/or behavioural responses in students.

    In the first instance it is important to:

    • acknowledge that news of the death may feel confusing
    • acknowledge that having an emotional or behavioural response to the news is common and expected
    • acknowledge that they will probably have questions, some of which you have the answers to and others you will not be able to answer
    • acknowledge that everyone will process the news differently and grief is unique
    • provide information regarding the support that is and has been made available at school in response to the news
    • promote help-seeking and encourage self-care activities.

    Where you have consent from the bereaved family to refer to the cause of death as a suicide it is important to:

    • provide only the information you have consent to share (do not refer to the location or method if known)
    • avoid sharing your personal opinions regarding suicide
    • avoid blame
    • avoid guilt
    • acknowledge that it is common to want more information to try and understand why
    • reiterate help-seeking and that support is available if anyone is experiencing suicidal thoughts/behaviours themselves.

    Talking about suicide might feel daunting and challenging, personally and professionally. There is a myth that talking about suicide can put the idea in someone’s head and influence the likelihood that that they will die by suicide.

    Talking individually to someone about their own suicidal ideation/behaviour can reduce suicidal risk by offering the young person a chance to share what they have been going through and provide an opportunity for the person to seek appropriate support (refer to After a suicide lossExternal Link ).

    Supporting resource

    The Conversation Matters publication Those bereaved by suicideExternal Link is a resource that can guide your response to some of the questions and reactions you observe in students following news of the death.

    Setting up a student support room

    A support room provides students with a safe physical location to express their emotions, reflect and access support from appropriately trained staff members following news that a student has died by suicide.

    Creating a space for students to reflect and begin to process the loss also offers an opportunity to promote positive messages of help-seeking and facilitate referrals to additional services in response to the observed level of need identified.

    It is recommended that schools consult with SSS for advice on setting up the support room.

    Location

    A support room should:

    • be easily accessible for students and staff, including those with a disability, to allow for supervised transitions to and from the room
    • be big enough to allow for both informal and confidential conversations with students to occur as required
    • have access to amenities, providing a comfortable space for students and staff.

    Remember

    Some students will likely require ongoing support beyond the point of the funeral having concluded. This is best offered as individual support with an appropriately trained staff member from the wellbeing team or mental health professional.

    Supervision

    It is recommended that at least 2 staff members, one of whom has mental health training, are always available to staff the support room. This ensures support is available to students if they become distressed.

    Ensure these staff are supported to take breaks throughout the day.

    A sign-in/sign-out record of a student’s attendance and departure from the support room is essential. It provides valuable information about those students who have been impacted and require support.

    Monitoring attendance in the support space can inform your decision about how long to provide access to the space.

    Remember

    Ensure you are not disclosing more information than you are able to provide, maintaining privacy and not referring to method of death.

    Duration

    This will vary depending on the need and numbers of students accessing the space.

    The funeral may offer the point in time at which returning to normal routine is appropriate.

    Resources

    Offering refreshments can encourage students to enact their own self-care strategies.

    Providing activities that offer a distraction, such as puzzles or card games that are appropriate to the age and maturity of the students, can also help to create space between thoughts of their friend and attempting to make sense of the loss.

    Accessing the space

    Welcome all students to the space encouraging them to make themselves comfortable.

    Provide support as needed. Be guided by the conversations and the students’ understanding of what has happened.

    Identify those students who require additional, individual support by a member of the wellbeing team, including contact with parents and carers, where appropriate.

    Record the details of the interactions with students, in line with the school’s documentation practice (for example, Compass).

    Remember

    Where students have been distressed while they have been in the support room, check in with them again before they sign out and leave the room. This step confirms that they are aware of the supports available at school should they become distressed during the day. This may include liaising with the student’s parents to provide details of the support provided and concerns about their mental health and wellbeing.

    Informing families of all students

    Providing timely and accurate information to families of all students following exposure to a suicide is critical to ensuring safety is restored and the risk of suicide contagion is reduced.

    Remember

    Informing parents of the suicide offers them the opportunity to recognise changes in their child’s behaviour, emotions, thoughts and/or general presentation in the context of experiencing a loss due to suicide.

    It is important to provide families with information about any changes to normal routines and usual school processes due to the incident and expected timeframes for review. Regularly communicating with your parent/carer community will aid the school’s recovery efforts and promote compassionate communication immediately after the incident.

    Where possible, communication with families should occur on the first day of the response and use existing communication processes; for example, an email, letter home and/or text message alerting families to important information that will be sent home via a letter or email.

    Supporting resource

    Refer to Appendix 5External Link for a template of the email/letter to families.

    Liaising with neighbouring schools and community services, including youth mental health services

    Following confirmation that a student in the school has died by suicide it is important to liaise with neighbouring schools and appropriate mental health services.

    Neighbouring schools

    The sharing of relevant information extends to neighbouring schools such as primary schools where siblings of students directly impacted may be enrolled and other local schools where students may be connected geographically (sharing a bus route, witnessing the incident or having had recent contact with the deceased), socially (community sporting club, friends, social circles) and psychologically (through shared experiences, cultural connections or where they perceive themselves to be closely connected to the deceased).

    It is essential that information shared is consistent with the Department’s policy and relevant laws, including consent from the bereaved family.

    External youth special mental health services

    It is also recommended that you advise external youth special mental health services. This offers them the opportunity to review and modify their capacity and available resources in order to provide timely support to students requiring an assessment of suicidal risk and support to alleviate distress.

    Before sharing the service’s contact details with families, it is important to seek guidance from the service about their referral process and opening hours.

    Remember

    Be YouExternal Link offers postvention support to schools by assisting the coordination and resources required to respond to the mental health and wellbeing needs of students and staff following a suicide, reducing the risk of more suicides occurring. The link provided will take you to the relevant contact details to access this support.

    Managing media and social media

    Support from the Media Unit

    Managing media and social media during a response can be difficult. All decisions about managing the media and social medial should be done in consultation with the Department’s media unit on 03 8688 7776. The media unit provides media support and advice to principals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, including managing media enquiries on their behalf. This team of media experts supports principals to respond to requests from newspapers, radio, TV and manage social media issues.

    It is also recommended that the principal contact the Senior Education Improvement Leader (SEIL) upon receiving a request from the media.

    Importantly, the media unit works closely with key areas of the Department including the Legal Services Division and the Schools and Regional Services Group to ensure that public comments do not breach any laws.

    Supporting resource

    Refer to the Department’s Managing Trauma: a guide to manage trauma following a critical incidentExternal Link (staff login required) for more information about preparing for media interest.

    Managing media

    The media are sometimes interested in reporting on youth suicide and may contact the school for comment. Schools should never feel obliged to immediately respond to a request from the media. Taking time to prepare a response and seek appropriate guidance and support will ensure the communication is concise and accurate and minimises the risk of suicide contagion.

    If a media outlet contacts the school, it is important to:

    • ask for their name and the media outlet they represent
    • record their contact details (phone, email)
    • ask for the timeframe that they would like the information by
    • request that they provide the questions in writing – this will allow time to consider the response
    • contact the media unit for support.

    For more information, refer to: Media Requests and Attendance at Schools.

    It is important that all members of staff understand the process to follow if a journalist makes contact with the school asking about a suicide they believe is impacting your school community.

    It is recommended that one person manages the liaison between media and the school. It is generally the principal who is asked to speak on behalf of the school. However, another senior member of the school’s leadership team may also take on the spokesperson duties if appropriate.

    Managing social media

    Content posted to social media can significantly increase the extent to which people are exposed to a suicide and is therefore an important aspect of your school’s postvention response. It can be difficult to ascertain what information has been posted to online platforms and how to restore safety in this context. In a response, social media can be a way to promote messages of help-seeking and strategies to foster positive mental health following exposure to suicide. It can aid efforts to return a school community to flourishing.

    Remember

    #ChatSafeExternal Link guidelines have been developed by Orygen Specialist ProgramExternal Link in partnership with young people to provide support when responding to suicide-related content online and may be helpful for schools during a response.

    In a school environment, educators:

    • are encouraged to listen out for references to what has been posted online and engage with students about what they have seen online
    • must maintain professional boundaries while demonstrating genuine curiosity in order to provide school leadership and external services (such as police) with timely information about any events or gatherings that are planned where vulnerable young people may be gathering.

    Supporting resource

    For information about managing social media, refer to: CybersafetyExternal Link . For advice about reporting or removing inappropriate posts, refer to: eSafety CommissionerExternal Link .

    End-of-day briefing

    Conducting an end-of-day briefing is an opportunity to:

    • recognise the efforts of staff to support the school’s response to the incident
    • provide an update on any further information from the family (for example, likely date of funeral, memorial and so on)
    • enable staff to debrief and share their experiences of the challenges/successes of the day
    • provide staff with an update about activities undertaken during the day and any additional information that has been confirmed
    • allow staff to share what they notice in their classrooms
    • provide an update about the resources available to the school in the coming days
    • communicate the plan for the following day, including the frequency of staff briefings
    • support staff to offer suggestions of additional ways to support students and the wider school community
    • remind staff of the support available via the Department’s EAP service
    • encourage help-seeking and self-care
    • check in with staff and observe for any indications that staff may require additional support.

    Student attendance and absenteeism

    Your school will already have processes in place for following up on student absenteeism. While some of these systems may be automated, it is important that efforts are made to review the list for students who have been identified as vulnerable and requiring a follow up with an appropriate member of staff. The purpose of this step is to demonstrate sensitivity and protect families from undue harm if the absence is due to an incident involving their young person.

    Where possible, it is recommended that a member of the leadership or wellbeing team be responsible for contacting families of students known to be experiencing mental health difficulties, to offer wellbeing support and confirm their whereabouts if absent from school.

    Documentation and record keeping

    Setting out the expectations for clear and concise record keeping from the outset is an essential component of the postvention activities. It effectively and appropriately helps to manage the risks to your school community following exposure to a suicide.

    It is important to clarify the roles and responsibilities of all staff involved in the care and support of students and ensure the processes for recording interactions is clear and consistent. Documenting relevant information from the interactions and subsequent actions (by whom) should be recorded in a timely manner, preferably on the day the interaction occurred.

    Having a coordinated and timely approach to documenting interactions will support the incident management and recovery team in the initial days and weeks as the workload is significantly increased in response to the incident. Documenting the actions undertaken throughout the immediate response phase will also assist in future incident reviews and inform practice moving forward.

    Guidance chapter outlining the steps and required actions to be followed in the 24 to 48 hours after an incident

    Reviewed 08 June 2022

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