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    June 2018

    Preventing Campus Suicide Clusters

    Preventing Campus Suicide Clusters

    According to the Jed Foundation (Jed) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), suicide is the second leading cause of death among college students, with approximately 1,500 suicides each year.

    A suicide cluster occurs when direct or indirect knowledge of a suicide encourages another person, in this case another member of the campus community, to attempt or die by suicide. Jed and SAMHSA have indicated that suicide clusters emerge primarily among teenagers and young adults.

    An institution should have a postvention plan in place to address any suicide which 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 death is important for preventing contagion. The postvention plan should include guidelines on publicly discussing the death. For example:

    Communications should not:

    • Provide a description of 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 members of the community

    Support

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

    Consistency

    Be sure that the response to a campus suicide death is consistent with how the 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 an institution responds to a suicide death can prevent subsequent tragedies.

    Resources

    The Jed Foundation
    Suicide Prevention Resource Center
    HEMHA Postvention Guide to Response to Suicide on Campus
    Action Alliance Framework for Successful Messaging

    By Heather Salko, senior risk management counsel

    2 Comments

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      Thank you for your comment. We appreciate your feedback and have updated the blog to reflect the recommended terminology.

    • Avatar

      The Maine Suicide Prevention program notes, "The term “committed suicide” implies a level of criminality while “completed suicide” implies earlier attempts when there may have been none. Both terms (committed and completed) perpetuate the stigma associated with suicide and are strongly discouraged. Using the word “successful” or “failed” to describe suicide is also discouraged, “died by suicide” or “died of suicide” as well as "suicide death" and "fatal suicide behavior" is recommended. Sensitive use of suicide related language is appreciated."
      The use of "commit suicide" above should be removed.

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