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School operations

Suicide Response (Postvention)

As soon as practicable, call:

  • Incident Support and Operations Centre (ISOC) on 1800 126 126 to activate additional support from Area and Regional staff
  • Student Support Services (SSS) for assistance with coordination and resources
  • your Be You Consultant for support for affected, students, staff and families, and additional support and resources.

Emotional safety

The information contained in this policy refers to the topic suicide and may elicit an emotional response.  It is important to recognise when you become triggered by the content and prioritise your mental health and wellbeing needs first and foremost. For more information, refer to the guidance chapter: Self-care for school staff following an incident of self-harm or an attempted suicide.

Policy

The purpose of this policy is to provide guidance to schools with secondary school students on responding to the suicide or suspected suicide of a student.

For support and information about self-harm and attempted suicides, refer to: Self-harm and Attempted Suicide Response.

Summary

  • This policy and associated 'Responding to the suicide of a student: a guide to assist secondary schools' (the Guide) have been developed in partnership with headspace and apply to the suicide or suspected suicide of a student at all government schools with secondary school-aged students.
  • The Guide assists schools with the steps and activities undertaken in the immediate, short-term, and long-term phases of a response to a suicide or suspected suicide of a student (also called postvention).
  • An evidence-informed and coordinated response helps alleviate distress and reduce potential ongoing mental health and wellbeing difficulties for all members of a school community. It is also a suicide prevention strategy among those people exposed to and bereaved by suicide.
  • Schools must report and manage the suicide or suspected suicide of a student in accordance with their Emergency Management Plan and the Department’s Reporting and Managing School Incidents (including emergencies) Policy.
  • Schools will be supported by the Area-based Student Support Staff and the Incident Support Operations Centre.
  • In a primary school setting, the Guide may not address all postvention activities required and as such, primary schools must seek support from relevant Department staff and report the incident to ISOC for immediate and ongoing support.

Details

The impact of a suicide is immediate and traumatic to families, friends and communities experiencing it.

Schools have an important responsibility and duty of care to respond to a suicide in a way that promotes safety and protects everyone from further harm.

A thoughtful and coordinated response will help schools address student and staff needs following a suicide or suspected suicide of a student. It will reduce the risk of more suicides occurring and help restore safety and wellbeing. This response is also known as postvention.

Responding to the suicide of a student: a guide to assist secondary schools

The Guide has been developed by the Department in partnership with headspace to support secondary schools throughout this difficult postvention period.

All government secondary schools must follow the Guide when responding to a student suicide.

In a primary school setting, the suicide of a student may involve additional complexities and the Guide may not address all postvention activities required in these circumstances.

Primary schools must seek support from their SSS key contact or another mental health professional and report the incident to ISOC for immediate and ongoing support.

The Guide complements the school’s Emergency Management Plan and existing Departmental policies, resources and mental health and wellbeing initiatives. It should be read in conjunction with Reporting and Managing School Incidents (including emergencies).

It is divided into 7 sections.

A number of tools, templates, scripts and factsheets are also available in the Guide, as well as on the Resources tab. This includes 2 one-page overviews:

  • Key actions and stages following the suicide of a secondary student
  • Informing and supporting your school community following the suicide of a secondary student

Sections 1 to 4

Sections 1 to 4 of the Guide provide important background guidance relating to suicide response including key information about the complexity of suicide, the role of educators in identifying and supporting young people following the suicide of a student, and staff self-care:

Sections 5 to 7

Sections 5 to 7 of the Guide outline the critical steps and tasks required for each phase of the response:

  • Section 5: Immediate response (24 hours to 48 hours). The immediate response phase focuses on:
    • reporting the incident to ISOC to activate additional support from Area and Regional staff
    • confirming the death has occurred and how the family wishes to refer to it
    • sensitively communicating with staff, students and other members of the school community.
    • monitoring and supporting student and staff mental health and wellbeing.
  • Section 6: Short-term response (1 week to 3 months). The short-term response phase focuses on:
    • ongoing monitoring and support of student and staff mental health and wellbeing
    • spontaneous memorials and preparing for the funeral
    • continuing to document key actions and conducting an operational debrief.
  • Section 7: Longer-term response (3 months to 12 months). The longer-term response phase continues to aid recovery and supports the school to promote ongoing positive mental health. It includes advice on:
    • planned response to anniversaries (3, 6, 12 months following suicide) and other important events
    • consideration of information sessions about understanding grief and loss, self-care, and supporting the mental health and wellbeing of young people
    • continued documentation of relevant mental health and wellbeing activities and support provided.

It is recommended that all staff responsible for student health, safety and wellbeing (including classroom teachers) become familiar with the Guide, particularly sections 1 to 4, through discussion in a staff meeting, a professional development session or by linking to it in the staff handbook.

To ensure school leaders and members of the Incident Management Team are appropriately prepared, they should familiarise themselves with all sections of the Guide and the critical incident procedures in the school’s individual Emergency Management Plan to be appropriately prepared in the event of a suicide or suspected suicide of a student.

While it is important for school leadership and members of the Incident Management Team to be familiar with the Guide, in the event of a suicide or suspected suicide, specialist regional and central office Department staff will support school leadership and the Incident Management Team throughout the response period to ensure the Guide is followed.

International students

Where an incident involves an international student, the reporting school must advise the Department’s ISOC on 1800 126 126 whether the Department has accepted responsibility for ensuring appropriate accommodation and welfare arrangements.

For more information, refer to: International Student Program (ISP)

Privacy and duty of care

School staff have a duty of care to take reasonable steps to reduce the risk of reasonably foreseeable harm to students in their care. If school staff become aware of student wellbeing or safety risks, including a student who is a self-harm or suicide risk, this information must be provided to the principal, or other appropriate leadership staff, so that appropriate steps can be taken to support the safety of students. Use of this information in that context is consistent with the Schools’ privacy policy and relevant privacy obligations.

Personal and health information must be collected and managed appropriately in accordance with relevant laws and Departmental policy. For example, use and/or disclosure of health information should be limited to:

  • where needed to carry out school functions
  • where needed to lessen or prevent a serious threat to a person or the public’s health, safety or welfare
  • where a parent/carer or mature minor consents to the disclosure
  • when sharing information outside the Department is required, or authorised by law, such as to:
    • meet duty of care, anti-discrimination, occupational health and safety obligations
    • promote the wellbeing or safety of children, or to assess or manage family violence risk (for more information, refer to Child and Family Violence Information Sharing Schemes)
  • when required by law enforcement.

Relevant legislation

Department policy providing guidance to schools with secondary school students on responding to the suicide or suspected suicide of a student

Reviewed 14 October 2021

Policy last updated

14 October 2021

Scope

  • Schools

Contact

Mental Health Policy and Programs Unit

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