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Healing After Suicide in a School Community
Discussion Guidelines for Students:

1. Present facts about the death
      "our school experienced a sad event yesterday.  One of our students or faculty members died.  As some of you may know, he took his own life."
Please do not say "committed suicide". It conveys the stigma associated with committing a crime or being committed for mental problems. Instead use the term "died by suicide" "completed suicide" or "took his own life".

2.  Address circumstances if asked.
   "He died by hanging" or whatever the means was. But do not focus on the means. Don't go into details. It is easier to focus on the how than on the why. It can help to say to students,"the way he did it isn't as important as talking about why he would do this. Let's talk about how you feel now and the questions that you have regarding how he must have been feeling."
Because this death may receive media coverage, the circumstances may become public information anyway. Many of the students already know. You are not providing new or privileged information if this is the case. Now a days the students, even as young as middle schoolers wind up texting one another and immediately placing an RIP on Facebook. Many students have shared with me that is how they found out.
3.  Invite reactions.
"Does anyone want to talk about his/her reactions?"
Expect a wide range of responses that include the sharing of rumors and gossip. As these are expressed, you may want to interrupt to remind students that we don't really know what happened or what he was thinking at the time. Explain that rumors are always generated to fill the gaps in information and we have to be careful not to get caught up in them or to believe them. Facts are often manufactured to explain things we can't understand and suicide is one of those things that is impossible for most of us to imagine. Rumors also distract us from the sad fact that this person we knew is dead. Remember that most will still be in a state of utter shock at this time and the reactions may come slowly or in time. Let the students and faculty know ahead of time what normal signs and symptoms of grief look like, so they don't feel more out of control.

4. Address issues related to suicide
Because of the realistic concerns about suicide imitation with teens, it is essential that this discussion include information about suicide prevention. This information addresses:

1. Ubiquity of suicidal thoughts
"All of us may feel, at one time or another, that life isn't worth living and we may think about dying. Especially when we hear about the suicide of someone we knew or admired, we may find ourselves thinking about suicide. While these thoughts may be normal, they can be frightening and scary and it is ESSENTIAL that we share them with an adult we trust."

2. Importance of not keeping these thoughts to ourselves and sharing them with a trusted adult.
"Take a minute to think about the adults in your life who you can turn to when you have problems or feel alone and confused.  These are the people with whom you want to share any thoughts, concerns, or questions about suicide."

3. Importance of not keeping a suicidal confidence of a peer.
"If you hear a friend talk about dying or suicide or you notice behaviors that concern you, you also want to share these with an adult. Sometimes friends may tell you things and ask you to keep them secret. Thoughts and feelings about suicide, though, are never things to keep secret. Even if your friend gets mad at you for telling an adult, it is still better to have a friend who is alive and angry."

4.  Identify in -school resources
Review the people in the university to whom the students can go to talk with if they have personal concerns or are worried about friends.

5. Discuss curriculum reminders.

Academic content often contain subject matter that touches on suicide or sudden death. Give students permission to identify material that is upsetting to them and negotiate with instructors for alternative assignments
After a Suicide : A Toolkit for Schools: visit: http://www.afsp.org/index.cfm?page_id=7749A976-E193-E246-7DD0A086583342A1  to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention page and scroll down a bit to "Click here to download the toolkit" 

Coping with Suicide Loss

(from www.afsp.org) American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Handling the Holidays

Do what you think will be comfortable for you. Remember, you can always choose to do things differently next time.

  • Think about your family's holiday traditions. Consider whether you want to continue them or create some new ones.
  • Remember that family members may feel differently about continuing to do things the way they've been done in the past. Try to talk openly with each other about your expectations.
  • Consider whether you want to be with your family and friends for the holiday, or whether it would be more healing for you to be by yourself or go away (this year).
  • Keep in mind that sometimes the anticipation of an event can be more difficult than the event itself.
  • If you find it comforting to talk about your loved one, let your family and friends know that; tell them not to be afraid to mention your loved one's name.
  • Some survivors find it comforting to acknowledge the birthday of their loved ones by gathering with his/her friends and family; others prefer to spend it privately.
  • Some survivors have found the following ritual helpful for a variety of occasions:
    Light two candles, and then blow one out. Explain that the extinguished candle represents those we've lost, while the one that continues to burn represents those of us who go on despite our loss and pain.
    Simply leave the one candle burning (you can put it off to one side) for the duration of the holiday meal or event. The glowing flame acts as a quiet reminder of those who are missing.
  • Above all, bear in mind that there is no "right" way to handle holidays, anniversaries, or birthdays. You and your family may decide to try several different approaches before finding one that feels best for you.

Suicide Support Groups in NJ:
Survivors of Suicide
Contact: Jack Klingert 908-605-0325  Meeting Place: Madison
Grace Episcopal Church
4 Madison Avenue
Madison, NJ
Email:  sosmadisonnj@gmail.com   
Meeting Day(s)/Meeting Time:
2nd and 4th Wednesday of every month from 7:30-9 p.m.
Facilitated by: Peer
Charge: No
Newsletter: No
Counties Served: Northern NJ, etc.

Group Name & Mailing Address:

Survivors of Suicide
Office of Prevention Services
P.O. Box 1392
Piscataway, NJ 08855
Contact: Peggy Farrell (732) 462-5267
Meeting Place:
University Behavioral Health Care
671 Hoes Lane, D 201
Piscataway, NJ
Meeting Day(s)/Meeting Time:
3rd Monday of every month at 7:30 p.m.
Facilitated by: Peer/Professional
Charge: No
Newsletter: No
Counties Served: Central NJ
Last Updated: 10/3/08

(973) 985-4503