Depressed teenage girl sits against a wall

Suicide has been in the news lately and school administrators are wondering how best to discuss the issue with members of their community.

What do parents want or need to know? What should school administrators tell them in emails and other communications?

Assure Parents that You Have a Plan

Clearly communicate to parents that your district has researched how to approach the subject with careful empathy. Parents are nervous, too. Are students being cared for when they’re at school? Here’s where you insert what your plan includes.

So, what does it include? There are several resources for schools that provide material for these matters. (On that note – here’s a great piece for schools by the SPRC.) Maybe it’s an informative assembly? One-on-one counseling efforts? Map this out.

Offer Resources That Will Help Parents at Home

Providing a list of useful resources can help quell some of uncertainties parents have when dealing with such a serious issue.

A good place to start with parents is outlining what sort of language will be helpful versus harmful. For example, when describing the why of the incident, encourage parents to not simply blame one issue or person and instead describe that it was several complex factors.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention recently released a guide on how to approach suicide for students at-risk that also benefits parents discussing the issue. The guide can be found here.

Be Mindful of Your Audience

Think carefully about wording and how you’re writing about the events themselves. There are several helpful pieces on how to phrase things empathetically. Read up.

The SPRC suggests the following in their “After Suicide Toolkit”:

Postvention efforts need to take into consideration the cultural diversity of everyone affected by a suicide, including the family, school, and community. This diversity may include differences in race, ethnicity, language, religion, sexual orientation, and disability. Culture may significantly affect the way people view and respond to suicide and death. Key points involving cultural differences include the following:

  • Be aware that the extent to which people are able to talk about suicide varies greatly, and in some cultures suicide is still seen as a moral failing.
  • Be sensitive to the beliefs and customs regarding the family and community, including rituals, funerals, the appropriate person to contact, etc.
  • Be sensitive to how the family or community may need to respond to the death before individuals outside of the family or community intervene to provide support.
  • Engage a “cultural broker” to act as a liaison between the family, community, and school if key members of school staff are not from the same racial, ethnic, or religious group as the person who died by suicide.
  • Bring in interpreters and translators if there are language differences. If possible, have resource materials in different languages available for parents.

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