Suicide prevention: A heightened focus
Recent changes in state law, as well as increased awareness about the importance of mental health to student well-being, achievement levels and school safety, have heightened suicide prevention and response as priorities for school districts and community members. While May marks Mental Health Awareness Month, suicide prevention and the core mental health concerns of students require year-round attention.

Districts serving students in grades 7-12 are required to adopt a policy on student suicide prevention, intervention and postvention that specifically addresses the needs of high-risk groups. Legislation signed into law in 2018 creates additional requirements for districts. Assembly Bill 2639 requires governing boards to review and update the district’s suicide prevention policy at least every five years. For districts that issue or reissue student identification cards, Senate Bill 972 requires the printing on either side of the card the telephone number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Districts may also include the Crisis Text Line and/or local suicide prevention hotline number on student identification cards.

Pursuant to AB 1808, the California Department of Education will be identifying evidence-based online training programs that districts can access for training purposes regarding suicide awareness and prevention. Districts are encouraged to review CSBA’s sample board policy and administrative regulation BP/AR 5141.52 – Suicide Prevention, issued in December 2018, to incorporate the legislation described above when updating their suicide prevention policy.

“Suicide prevention policies should be shared with all staff, students and parents, so that everyone can form a system of support for those that have lost hope and feel suicide is their only option,” said Monica Nepomuceno, California Department of Education Mental Health Services Program consultant. “With the implementation of suicide prevention policies, schools are making progress to address the increasing mental health needs of students.”

A heightened Focus on Suicide Prevention
Suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and has been on the rise since 2007. The 2015-17 results of the California Health Kids Survey of seventh-, ninth- and 11th-grade students found that nearly three in 10 high school students experienced chronic sadness or hopelessness, and nearly one in six had seriously considered attempting suicide. Additionally, LGBTQ students and students of color are far more likely to report higher rates of depression, anxiety and thoughts of self-harm, according to research published in Pediatrics in May 2018.

The direct resources and/or expertise required for dealing with the vast range of mental health issues students might be facing every day are limited for many districts. Governance teams should collaborate with school counselors, school psychologists, school nurses, parents and guardians, students, local health agencies, community organizations, and other experts in developing suicide prevention strategies.

In addition, districts are encouraged to review the resources available through the following agencies and organizations: