There have been three apparent suicide deaths in the past week related in part to past school shootings.
In the last week, two students who survived the 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, died of apparent suicides.
The second Parkland student, a male, has not been publicly identified. He died Saturday.
Then, on Monday, Jeremy Richman, whose 6-year-old daughter was killed in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, was found dead in his office building.
On suicide contagion
Exposure to news of suicide deaths may increase the risk of “suicide contagion,” especially among particularly vulnerable people, such as adolescents and young adults, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services.
In fact, “analysis suggests that at least 5 percent of youth suicides are influenced by contagion,” the New York Times’ Margot Sanger Katz reported in 2014.
How can we help minimize risk?
How can the community help
To help minimize risk of contagion among the community, the HHS recommends “family members, friends, peers, and colleagues of the victim evaluated by a mental health professional.” Those deemed at risk should seek additional mental health services.
While “there’s the fear that if we talk about suicide, we may be inadvertently promoting it,” the Conversation reported in 2015, “if we encourage young people to not talk about suicide, we may unintentionally increase suicidal adolescents’ feelings of isolation, which contributes to risk of suicide.”
What health care providers and school staff can do
Mental health screenings early are key, and if you’re screening patients, be sure to ask whether or not they know someone who has attempted or died of suicide.
The Mental Health Screening and Assessment Tools for Primary Care via the American Academy of Pediatrics “provides a listing of mental health screening and assessment tools, summarizing their psychometric testing properties, cultural considerations, costs, and key references.” Download here.
Additionally, school staff “should also be trained to work with the community mental health system and to discuss mental health concerns with families,” according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. To do this, it’s crucial for staffers to know the early warning signs.
How the media can minimize risks
The HHS, along with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, has also outlined guidelines for media reporting to minimize risk through “factual and concise reports of suicide.”
“The idea is to avoid emphasizing or glamorizing suicide, or to make it seem like a simple or inevitable solution for people who are at risk,” Katz reported. “The guidelines have been shown to make a difference: A study in Vienna documented a significant drop in suicide risk when reporters began adhering to recommendations for coverage.”
One of the many guidelines include avoiding the word “committed” and instead using “died by suicide” or “took his/her life.” Other words to avoid regarding attempts: “successful,” “unsuccessful” or “failed attempt.” And it’s imperative to refrain from including details or images on suicide methods.
Reporters should also always provide hopeful messages and information about helplines and crises centers. For example: “If you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.” It is also helpful to convey how treatment and support can help.
According to AFSP, media should “avoid reporting that a suicide death was ‘caused’ by a single event, such as a job loss or divorce, since research shows no one takes their life for one single reason, but rather a combination of factors.”
“It’s different from any other cause of death,” Christine Moutier, the chief medical officer at the AFSP told the Times. “When someone dies of cancer or heart disease or AIDS, you don’t have to worry about messaging it wrong.”
If you or anyone you know is contemplating suicide, call or text the 24-hour hotline at 800-273-8255. For more information, go to www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org.
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