Longer-term response (3 months to 12 months)
This stage will aid the school’s recovery and focus the school community along the continuum of mental health and wellbeing from response through recovery and back to promoting positive mental health and wellbeing.
Research indicates that with time and appropriate supports provided in the initial days, weeks and months after exposure to the suicide, for the most part, your community will be able to return to normal functioning.
It is recommended that you reflect on the incident and identify the strategies and areas of growth that will strengthen your school’s capacity to respond to an incident in the future.
Key actions in this stage include:
- ongoing monitoring of student and staff wellbeing
- responding to and assessing requests for permanent memorials
- developing strategies to maintain the mental health and wellbeing of your school community
- provision of relevant information sessions as necessary
- planning a response to anniversaries (3, 6, 12 months following suicide) and other important events
- documenting student mental health and wellbeing activities and supports provided.
While establishing a permanent memorial might be a way that some families, communities or schools wish to pay tribute to the deceased, it is recommended that permanent memorials not be established on school grounds.
Creating a memorial for one person can create a precedent that schools are unable to sustain. Permanent memorials can be re-triggering for those impacted and lose relevance as students, staff and families move on from being engaged with the school.
Memorials can also romanticise or glorify the suicide of the young person, leading to a higher risk of contagion.
Denying the wishes of a bereaved family to establish a permanent memorial on school grounds is a challenging situation and should be approached with compassion and sensitivity when explaining reasons for the decision. Providing a safe space for the family to share their wishes and gain an understanding about the associated risks might be all that is required to ensure they feel heard and that their child’s death is recognised.
Navigating these conversations is not the responsibility of one person but should be done in a collaborative manner to maintain wellbeing and reduce distress. When considering how best to approach this, it is important to refer to the school’s existing practices about memorials and to discuss it with Student Support Services (SSS) and school-based wellbeing staff.
Anniversaries and other important dates
Similar to other deaths, anniversaries and other important dates can elicit a range of emotional responses for those bereaved by the loss of someone known to them (including perceived connections and exposure to a suicide). Being aware of these events is a long-term postvention responsibility. Planning for such events can reduce the anticipation and distress experienced by those who are likely to be impacted.
When considering how to manage an anniversary or important date such as a birthday or graduation, it is important to remember that everyone will respond to and experience this event differently and their needs will vary. Consistent with the principles of informing your school community, any discussion or activity is best handled in small groups rather than a larger setting such as an assembly.
Consider how the school has managed anniversaries and other important dates in the past. If appropriate, adopt this approach to ensure you are not perpetuating the stigma associated with a suicide death. Be guided by the request from your school community (students, staff and parents/carers) and consult with SSS and other regional staff for support and guidance on managing the response.
Significant events and anniversaries can evoke intense feelings and memories for those bereaved by suicide. These events provide an important opportunity to share help-seeking messages and facilitate access to relevant support services as required.
It is not the responsibility of schools to commemorate the anniversary or other important events but rather to respond to the request by acknowledging the impact such an event will have on members of their school community and offering appropriate support that minimises ongoing distress.
Information and education sessions
Staff and parents/carers
Following exposure to a suicide you might consider offering information sessions to build the mental health literacy of your school community. Topics to consider include:
- understanding grief and loss
- supporting the mental health and wellbeing of young people.
The purpose of these sessions is to strengthen the skills and confidence of the school community to identify and support students and staff experiencing difficulties coping and/or adapting to normal routine after the incident.
The decision to host an information/education session will be based on the identified needs of the community, level of engagement by your parent/carer cohort and be influenced by the level of exposure and impact to the community.
The decision to offer information/education sessions to students after exposure to a suicide is complex and requires careful consideration and planning.
Promoting messages of help-seeking and positive mental health is important, however, when paired with stories of suicide, it can increase risk and vulnerability in students. Any conversation about mental health and wellbeing, including suicide, should be done in small targeted groups, as a way to monitor and appropriately manage distress and should be supported with help seeking messages and information. Recognising the risk of suicide contagion and the power of language and communication in either contributing to or reducing instances where suicide is glamorised is a tenuous line to hold.
Following exposure to a suicide it is important to review material that is likely to engage students in a discussion about mental health and wellbeing and consider how these might provide the platform to strengthen messages of help-seeking and promote activities to foster improved mental health and wellbeing outcomes. For example, your school might recognise mental health week or other significant mental health awareness campaigns and texts in the curriculum may cover various mental health and wellbeing themes.
Maintaining the mental health and wellbeing of your school community
Continuing to be aware of the mental health and wellbeing needs of your school community in the longer-term is as important as it is in the immediate days and weeks following exposure to a suicide.
Some people, young people and adults alike, can experience prolonged symptoms of grief that significantly disrupt daily functioning and require additional support to manage the symptoms and cope with the loss.
It is important to continue promoting help-seeking messages such as encouraging the use of EAP for staff and internal and external supports in addition to the continued provision of targeted support to students.
Building capacity of your school community
Schools play an important role in providing an environment that is inclusive, safe and positive, where students have the opportunity to reach their full potential. Furthermore, the mental health and wellbeing of students benefits from multi-tiered system of support that enable effective management of risk and early intervention.
Research indicates that whole-school approaches to building a positive and inclusive culture of mental health and wellbeing facilitate optimal wellbeing outcomes for students. A whole-school approach is one that involves all members of the school community, from school leaders to staff, students and parents/carers, each with an active role to play in building and embedding a positive culture of mental health and wellbeing.
|Remain engaged and aware of any changes to behaviour, emotions or social connections of your students.||Attempt to identify and/or diagnose a mental health difficulty or condition.||It is not the role of an educator to identify or suggest the presence of a mental health difficulty or condition, but rather to notice changes and appropriately refer for additional support if required.|
Consider the changes to behaviour, emotion or social connections you are observing in the context of the student’s age and developmental stage.Staff must refer students for additional support/assessment if they have any concerns.
Assume all change is the result of an emerging mental health difficulty or condition.Other influencing factors might be contributing to the change and/or emotional response you are observing such as recent individual, familial or environmental stressor or difficulty.
Consideration of age and development stage is relevant as some behaviours, thoughts and emotions are indicative of normal and expected development rather than an emerging mental health difficulty.Observable changes may also be due to cultural understandings or practices or a result of a student’s temperament or disability.
Adopting a whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing will significantly enhance a school’s ability to respond to the suicide of a student or staff member because mental health and wellbeing messages are embedded within the culture of the school before experiencing the impact of a suicide.
A whole school approach to mental health and wellbeing highlights the role that all members of a school community have in creating a culture of safety and inclusivity where all students can achieve their best possible educational outcomes.
Promoting mental health and wellbeing as a core component of education helps students:
- build resilience when faced with adversity
- develop protective factors against mental ill-health
- develop help-seeking behaviours and skills to confidently enact them when difficulties emerge.
- reduce the stigma associated with mental health and improve help seeking behaviour/activities.
Maintaining timely and accurate records of interactions pertaining to the mental health and wellbeing of students remains a priority beyond the immediate and short-term stages of the response.
It is important that the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved in the support of students is clearly documented and that information is shared regarding any modifications to this.
Guidance chapter focusing on the school's longer-term response to an incident
Reviewed 14 October 2021