education.vic.gov.au

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Suicide Response (Postvention)

Mental Health and Wellbeing following exposure to a suicide

Understanding mental health along a continuum

To assist with identifying vulnerable students following exposure to suicide, it is helpful to understand mental health and mental ill-health as existing at opposite ends along a continuum of mental healthExternal Link .

Remember

The process of recognising where students are positioned along the continuum of mental health and engaging them in a conversation to understand the factors that are contributing to their current mental health and wellbeing is consistent with the SAFEMindsExternal Link early intervention approach of NIP it in the bud! (Notice, Inquire, Plan).

Our position along the continuum is influenced by social, emotional and environmental factors (Be YouExternal Link ), and exposure to a suicide will likely influence a person’s movement along the continuum. In this instance, recognising changes and enquiring about a student’s current mental health and wellbeing is a preventative strategy reducing the potential for subsequent suicide events.

The World Health OrganisationExternal Link (WHO), as referenced in the Department’s Mental Health ToolkitExternal Link , defines health as 'a state of complete physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity'. With this in mind, mental health is an essential component of overall health and one cannot exist without the other.

Children and young people will typically sit at the end of the continuum between flourishing and going okay. This means that for the most part they have the resilience to cope with daily stressors. The promotion of help-seeking messages and increasing awareness of the strategies that foster positive mental health is fundamental to early intervention and prevention of future mental health difficulties.

Remember

Effective postvention support is a suicide prevention strategy among those people exposed to, and bereaved by suicide. Postvention, is therefore, prevention for the future (Andriessen 2009).

The Mental Health Continuum

Continuum represented by coloured dots running left to right from pale blue to dark red

Flourishing

If our mental health and wellbeing is flourishing we are:

  • in a state of optimal functioning
  • engaged with our environment
  • connected to our community.

In a school setting this is a child who:

  • is engaged in learning
  • has good coping strategies
  • is connected socially
  • has the ability to problem-solve
  • can maintain their energy and participation throughout the day.

Going okay

When our mental health and wellbeing is going okay we are:

  • able to complete our daily activities such as work and study
  • experiencing positive mental health with the absence of frequent or significant distress.

In a school setting this is a child who:

  • maintains regular attendance
  • approaches their learning with curiosity
  • is socially connected
  • experiences small observable changes in behaviour/emotions and/or social connection.

Going through a tough time

At the point in the continuum of emerging mental health concerns we are:

  • experiencing difficulties maintaining daily activities
  • experiencing noticeable changes in one of the domains of social, emotional and/or environment factors, evidenced by changes to behaviour, emotions and/or social connections.

In a school setting this is a student who:

  • has come to the attention of an educator and/or a member of the wellbeing team
  • is experiencing mild disruptions to their ability to engage in learning, behaviour, and social connections
  • experiences periods of disruption and impact to their behaviour, emotions and/or social connections.

Severely impacting everyday activities

At the far end of the continuum where our mental health and wellbeing is severely impacting everyday activities we are:

  • experiencing thoughts and emotions that are distressing
  • demonstrating behaviours out of the norm for that student
  • experiencing persistent negative emotions
  • requiring additional support to alleviate the distress experienced.

In a school setting this is a student who:

  • may be unable to maintain regular attendance
  • is socially disengaged
  • is not engaged in learning
  • has identifiable emotional distress.

Important considerations for talking to students in emotional distress

  • Asking someone if they are thinking of harming themselves and ending their life will not put the idea in their head, but rather facilitates a conversation that will allow the appropriate level of supports to be enacted.
  • Having the conversation is the first step to alleviate the intense psychological pain they are experiencing.
  • Prioritising your mental health and wellbeing is paramount.
  • Where possible, referring the student to another member of staff who can appropriately and safely engage in a conversation regarding suicide is recommended.

The school may have a preferred approach to how these conversations are managed. Being aware of which members of staff have the skills required to have a conversation with a young person regarding suicide vulnerability is critical.

In a school context, some young people will be less impacted by the suicide impacting the school community and will rely on their educators to maintain a sense of normality and routine. Routine and familiar structures provide a sense of safety for young people and any disruption to those may result in adverse mental health and wellbeing outcomes for them.

Conditional confidentiality

When a student discloses their intent to self-harm or expresses their emotional distress through self-harm, school staff should carefully explain the limits to the student’s privacy and confidentiality. That is, that their personal and health information may be used or disclosed, even without their consent, in certain circumstances such as the following:

  • to other school staff to enable school staff to appropriately manage the health, wellbeing and education of a child or group of children
  • to external agencies or parents/carers if there is a serious risk to their health, safety or welfare
  • to external agencies or parents/carers if there is a serious risk to another person’s health, safety or welfare
  • to other school staff in order to be able to provide a suitable and safe workplace for all school staff (occupational health and safety obligations).

For more information, refer to: Privacy and Information Sharing Policy.

Guidance chapter on mental health and wellbeing following exposure to a suicide

Reviewed 14 October 2021

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