Highlights: An ERIC/CAPS Digest
THIS DIGEST WAS CREATED BY ERIC, THE EDUCATIONAL
RESOURCES INFORMATION CENTER. FOR MORE INFORMATION DO A SEARCH ON
Suicide or sudden loss among student populations has
become a major concern for school counselors, teachers, parents and helping
professionals. Within the context of the school-as-community, the self-destructive
potential of young people is a major contemporary crisis. Classmates, parents,
teachers, and relatives experience both the direct implications of a student's
death and the residual long-term effects of a significant loss. The devastating
feelings of loss at a young age can be a traumatic experience for schools
(Franson & Hunter, 1988). Inherently, personal loss or threat of loss
also increases a person's suicide risk. Precipitating stressors include
depression; loss of a significant relationship; impulsivity; stress; substance
abuse; negative life events; physical, sexual or emotional abuse; isolation;
alienation; or a mystical concept of death (Ray & Johnson, 1983; Phi
Delta Kappan, 1988).
Hawton (1986) and Perrone (1987) found that peers of
adolescents who attempted suicide are vulnerable because suicide is higher:
- among persons with unstable social relationships;
- when a population is self-contained (as in school-as-community
- when imitative behavior is common;
- when the element of bravado exists; and
- when the act is sure to be noticed.
Balk (1983) further identified acute emotional responses
of students after the death of a peer. He revealed that while peer support
and chances to talk with friends about the death at such a time of loss
were important aids in coping with death, many peers feel uncomfortable
talking about death. They frequently avoid the survivors to decrease their
discomfort of not knowing what to say or how to say it. Balk maintained
that young people sometimes hide their feelings of grief because such feelings
often are not considered acceptable in public, and as a result, adolescents
are often confused about the source of their recurring grief reactions.
BEHAVIOR MANIFESTATIONS OF LOSS
The reactions of survivors who have experienced a
suicide or sudden loss are likely to be complex, but typically include
some or all of the following behavioral characteristics: denial, anger,
blaming, shame, guilt, fear, intellectualization, or hostility. Stanford
(1978) and Hunt (1987) further suggested the need for direct intervention
in schools with survivors. Shneidman (1972) noted that when a death occurs,
particularly of an unexpected nature, there is no pattern of behavior to
draw upon, and confusion results. Teachers also need help in understanding
and handling young people's normal, yet often inappropriate, reactions
to death. Young people often take clues as to how to react from the adults
around them more than from the event itself. A paramount need is for counselors,
educators and other support personnel to process the emotional needs of
survivors. Intervention to enhance coping skills could ultimately prevent
future suicides, or related self-destructive behavior.
MANAGING THE FIRST 48 HOURS
When a young person commits suicide, or is the survivor
of any kind of tragic death, the school counselor is confronted immediately
with a number of serious problems:
- Verifying what happened, containing the information,
protecting the privacy of the family, helping students cope with the death,
communicating beyond the school, seeking resources in the community, dealing
with parents, and Minimizing the possibility that other students may imitate
the behavior and take their own lives.
The first 48 hours following a student's suicide or
tragic death are crucial. The specific things for a counselor and his or
her staff to do during the first 48 hours are listed below:
- Verify the death. Meet or call the family; share
with family what school and staff plans to do; protect the family's right
to privacy, but also share the critical survivor needs of students and
- Convene School Crisis Management Team.
- Meet with faculty to provide accurate information
and to implement school's crisis management plan.
- Designate a person to serve as a case manager.
- Call on city-wide crisis management teams or support
services if needed.
- Identify staff member(s) who will follow the deceased
student's class schedule to meet with teachers and classmates and
to work the hallways following the
- Make counselors and/or support staff available
- Identify students about whom faculty and staff
- Provide rooms for students to meet in small groups.
CRITICAL QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
AFTER A CRISIS DUE TO SUICIDE OR SUDDEN DEATH
- How and when should the staff be informed?
- Is there a clearly defined phone tree in place?
- How and when should the students be informed?
- What specific information will be shared about
the tragedy with the teachers and staff?
- How will the school protect the family's privacy?
- Who is the spokesperson for the school and what
information will be released to the media?
- What will staff members be told to say if contacted
by the media?
- How should the personal possessions of the student
- If feeder schools are affected by the crisis,
how should they be included in the overall postvention efforts?
- Will you have a "care center" for those students
who are upset?
- Where will the "care center" be located?
- Who will supervise the "care center"?
- How will students be identified to come to the
- How many days will the "care center" be in existence?
- What available staff will you utilize city-wide?
- How will teachers, who are emotionally upset,
TASKS OF MOURNING AND GRIEF COUNSELING
Accepting the reality of the loss and confronting
the fact that the person is dead are two of the most important initial
tasks of mourning. The early denial and avoidance is quickly replaced by
the realization of the loss and it is necessary to feel the pain of the
loss and work through the grief process.
The grief process includes adjusting to an environment
in which the deceased is missing. Survivors must face the loss of the many
roles the deceased person filled in their life (e.g., classmate, team member,
close friend). Students need to recognize that symptoms such as startle
reactions, restlessness, agitation, sleeplessness, depression and anxiety
are typical intense reactions to a traumatic experience such as death.
Also essential is coming to terms with the anger one often feels toward
(1) the person who has died, (2) oneself, and (3) others. A final task
of mourning is to redirect the belief that one should have somehow prevented
SPECIAL TREATMENT ISSUES WITH
- Allow regression and dependency.
- Realize their lack of life experience in handling
- Allow expression of feelings such as sorrow, hostility,
- Encourage discussion.
- Allow for fluctuations in maturity level.
- Watch for emergence of unfinished business or
unresolved conflicts of the past.
- Answer questions and provide factual information.
- Correct distortions.
- Avoid power struggles with adolescents.
- Focus on strengths and constructive adaptive behaviors.
- Address conscious as well as unconscious guilt.
- Identify and help resolve adolescents' sense of
Young people continue to communicate their need for
help in understanding their feelings of confusion, loss, alienation, loneliness,
depression, anger, sadness, and guilt. Their ability to develop coping
strategies for their uncomfortable but normal feelings and their ability
to adjust to loss and maintain control over everyday life experiences,
will ultimately be dependent on the assistance they obtain and the resources
provided to them by the school-as-community. Counselors, administrators
and other support personnel can provide the curative environment that fosters
prevention and intervention with at-risk students. Collective efforts to
provide structured programs and secure environments to "work through" significant
losses are necessary to arrest the present cycle of self-destructive behavior
of contemporary youth.
Balk, D. (1983). How teenagers cope with sibling death.
Some implications for school counselors. The School Counselor, 31(2), 150-158.
Franson, J. P., & Hunter, E. (1988). When tragedy
comes to school: Coping with student death. NASSP Bulletin, 72(510), 88-94.
&&Hawton, K. (1986). Suicide and attempted suicide among children
and adolescents. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications. &&Hunt,
C. (1987). Step-by-step: How your schools can live through the tragedy
of teen suicides. American School Board Journal, 174(2), 24-37.
Mack, J. E., & Hicler, H. (1981). Vivienne: The life
and suicide of an adolescent girl. New York: New American Library.
Maris, R. (1982, August). Death and suicide, a teenage
crisis. Program presented at the 90th Annual Convention of the American
Psychological Association, Washington, DC.
Perrone, P. A. (1987). Counselor response to adolescent
suicide. The School Counselor, 35(1), 51-57.
Phi Delta Kappan. (1988). Responding to adolescent suicide.
Bloomington, IN: Author. Ray, L. Y., & Johnson, N. (1983). Adolescent
suicide. Personnel and Guidance Journal, 62(3), 131-135.
Shneidman, E. S. (1972). Death and the college student.
New York: Behavioral Publications.
Stanford, G. (1978). An opportunity missed. The School
Counselor, 26(2), 96-98. ----- Rosemary Thompson, Ed.D., N.C.C. Supervisor
of Primary Prevention and Early Intervention Programs Chesapeake Public
Schools Chesapeake, Virginia 1990 ----- This publication was prepared with
funding from the Office of Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department
of Education, under contract no. RI88062011. The opinions expressed in
this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI
or the Department of Education.
Title: Suicide and Sudden Loss: Crisis Management in the
Schools. Highlights: An ERIC/CAPS Digest. Document Type: Information Analyses---ERIC
Information Analysis Products (IAPs) (071); Information Analyses---ERIC
Digests (Selected) in Full Text (073); Available From: ERIC/CAPS, 2108
School of Education, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1259.
Descriptors: Coping, Counseling Techniques, Counselor Role, Crisis Intervention,
Crisis Management, Death, Depression (Psychology), Elementary Secondary
Education, Grief, School Involvement, School Role, Stress Management, Suicide
Identifiers: ERIC Digests, Grief Counseling.
HEAR JARED'S VOICE
- PLAY - From
an interview with Pasco School District investagators concerning the assault.
This is a recording of a recording and it isn't real clear, but worth the
download effort. Jared had a real mellow voice.
Note: If you have a slow load wav, wait for it to load entirely and then
play again from the start. 5 minutes long.