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Top 5 Questions About Preventing Youth Suicide in Schools

Answered by Industry Experts Scott Poland, Ed.D., Director, Suicide/Violence Prevention Office, NSU Florida and Crystal Ladwig, Ph.D., Director, Research/Content Development, Navigate360

District leaders and administrators know topics like youth suicide, depression and mental health are more critical than ever but are oftentimes unsure where to start. Educational leadership programs don’t prepare teachers and administrators to help students cope with mental health issues, yet you encounter students every day who may be experiencing trauma, depression, anxiety, and other mental health concerns.

Resulting from a recent webinar on Preventing Suicide in Your Schools, here are 5 of the top questions asked from K12 administrators and staff answered by two leading experts in the field of student mental health and youth suicide prevention – Dr. Scott Poland and Dr. Crystal Ladwig.


Question 1: What is holding back suicide prevention in schools?

Dr. Ladwig: One of the biggest barriers is simply a lack of information. Educators are not taught about mental health care and often feel ill-equipped to address the topic, deferring instead to school counselors or mental health professionals. Then they find themselves, tragically, in a response mode rather than a prevention mode.

Question 2: Do kids who engage in self-harm typically go on to die by suicide?

Dr. Ladwig: While some students who engage in self-harm do go on to die by suicide, many more don’t. Self-harm is not the same thing as being suicidal. It’s important to intervene as soon as possible when a student is self-harming to address that underlying cause.

Question 3: It seems sometimes depression can be misdiagnosed as ADD/ADHD. How can you differentiate or know the difference?

Dr. Poland: A careful assessment is needed to determine whether depression or ADHD might be an appropriate diagnosis for a student. Additionally, we must recognize that with comorbidity, it’s possible the student might meet both diagnostic criteria. My experience has been that students with severe ADHD that do not receive the needed treatment often become depressed because they’re always in trouble and not successful academically at school.

Question 4: What are your thoughts on suicide risk assessments? There are experts that are saying that school counselors should NOT do risk assessments.

Dr. Poland: Counselors are the most logical school personnel to provide an initial screening of whether or not a student is at risk for suicide. Counselors need to receive training on suicide screening that includes observing a role play of a suicide screening which I try to include in all my trainings. The primary purpose of this screening is to determine the immediate need for immediate supervision of the student. School counselors need to recognize that it’s very common for students to deny being suicidal and conversations with the student’s parents need to strongly encourage a comprehensive suicide assessment in the community. Peer reports of suicidal behavior need to be taken very seriously by school counselors.

Question 5: I’ve been hearing students say that wearing masks due to COVID have caused depression and anxiety. Is there any truth to this?

Dr. Poland: The anxiety and depression that students have experienced is in my opinion not the result of having to wear a mask. It is a result of the fact they have experienced isolation and have missed so many normally expected school and community activities.

Dr. Ladwig: That depression and anxiety is also made worse by grief over loved ones and opportunities lost, fear of getting sick, fear of losing loved ones, and fear that comes with living in such a time of uncertainty.

To read all of the questions and expert answers on preventing youth suicide in schools, download the full list here.

If you or someone you know might be at risk of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or visit their website for additional information. You can also text HOME to 741741 to connect with the Crisis Text Line.

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