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    March 2020

    Prevent Campus Suicide Clusters

    Preventing Campus Suicide Clusters

    A suicide cluster occurs when direct or indirect knowledge of a suicide encourages another person to attempt or die by suicide. Suicide clusters emerge primarily among teenagers and young adults, and suicide is the second-leading cause of death among college students, with approximately 1,500 suicides each year according to the Jed Foundation (Jed) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

    Your institution should have a “postvention” plan in place to address any suicide that occurs on campus, including steps to prevent the emergence of a suicide cluster. Postvention is a series of targeted interventions to provide a response and support in the event of a suicide. Among other things, a good postvention plan should address the following elements.

    Communication

    Communicating well with the media and the campus community in the aftermath of a suicide is important for preventing contagion. The postvention plan should include guidelines on publicly discussing the death. For example:

    Communications should not:

    • Describe the method or location of the suicide
    • Glorify or romanticize suicide
    • Normalize suicide as a common event or an inevitable outcome
    • Oversimplify the causes of suicide, such as stating that the victim was depressed

    Communications should:

    • Identify who will speak on behalf of the institution to reduce conflicting accounts and ensure a consistent voice
    • Respond promptly to get out in front of social media and rumors
    • Monitor social media chatter to understand the campus reaction
    • Identify suicide information and prevention resources
    • Emphasize prevention
    • Encourage help-seeking among community members  

    Support

    Following a suicide in the campus community, consider holding a community support meeting. This meeting should be facilitated by someone on campus who has been trained to conduct one. For more information on the format and considerations for the meeting, see the resources below.

    Consistency

    Ensure the response to a campus suicide is consistent with how your institution responds to other deaths of campus community members. For example, if you would not hold a memorial service for a student who died of natural causes, do not hold one for a student who died by suicide, as this may be seen as a glorification of the suicide.

    Good planning and great sensitivity in how your institution responds to a suicide can prevent subsequent tragedies.

    Resources

    The Jed Foundation
    Suicide Prevention Resource Center
    Higher Education Mental Health Alliance: Postvention — A Guide for Response to Suicide on College Campuses
    Action Alliance Framework for Successful Messaging

    By Heather Salko, senior risk management counsel


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