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School and Media Do's and Don'ts for Teen Suicides

October 15, 2013, a 16 year old Austin Texas student took his own life midday during the lunch break, on the campus of Lanier High School, in full view of other students in the school courtyard.

Suicide and media experts have advice to offer for how to handle such a situation. From this report by in Houston, ...

1. Most of the time, schools and/or the media should not release the name of the suicided person.

"As of Tuesday evening the Austin Independent School District had not released the name of the teenager who killed himself on campus."

You can be certain that every student at the school and the neighboring schools already knowa. There is nothing more to be gained by telling the public unless the name is otherwise newsworthy. If the death is of someone whose funeral you will want to attend, you will hear it from the family and friends.

Many media outlets properly withhold the name and at times the news simply to protect the sensibilities of the family. Overwhelmingly, news stores of failed attempts are withheld from the public unless there is another value to be obtained. For example, the media may property release information if the story highlights the existence of an unsecured location frequently used by suiciders.

2. Take every suicide threat seriously.

“He said he was going through a lot of stuff. He put pictures up before he did it. Nobody believed him until he did it,” said Elias Nieto, another Lanier High School student.

Even if you are wrong and it causes embarrassment to yourself or to the student threatening, you can always apologize later. But if, like these students, you heard or saw the threats, perhaps on Facebook or elsewhere, and the student carries through on the threat to commit suicide, how can you ever make that right? You will be entitled to forgiveness. But it might take you ten or twenty years to find it.

3. Minimize the details of the suicide when the story is retold where peers might hear or see it. In this case, ignorance IS bliss.

It still is not clear where the teenager got the gun. Lanier High School doesn’t have metal detectors.

In May 2013, the Canadian Medical Association published a ten year study on suicide asking the question whether suicide is contagious. That is, does knowing about the suicide or a peer increase suicide ideation among others? The answer was overwhelmingly, Yes. The strongest result was among twelve and thirteen year old students. When they learned of the suicide of another twelve or thirteen year old - "someone like me" whom they didn't even know, these young teens were FIVE times as likely to have suicidal thoughts themselves. "So that's how people like me solved this problem of loneliness? Maybe I will do that, too."

4. Minimize the name of the student and family.

This is Kathy Ryan, principal of Lacier High School. I, too, want to express my deepest sympathies to the entire Lanier family.

The more some other depressed, suicidal teen is aware of, the more likely he or she is to copy-cat the attempt even in significant detail.

5. Encourage students to talk about their feelings and fears.

{Principal]: I want to let you know that we will have school tomorrow and we will provide counseling services for Lanier students, families and staff throughout the week and beyond as needed.

The more other students are able to talk about their feelings, the faster they will heal and the less likely they will be to harm themselves.

6. Whenever possible, offer a resource for receiving help.

School will begin at normal time Wednesday. AISD will provide counseling services for students, parents and faculty until 6 p.m. Tuesday as well as throughout the rest of the week. People needing help are also encouraged to call Austin Travis County Integral Care’s crisis hotline at 512-472-4357. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also an available resource. That can be reached at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Among those who be interested in this news story are those who find the news encouraging ("See? I'm not the only one.") Therefore, along with the news, give people an alternative to safely deal with the temporary urge to die.

Steve Stewart Seminars | 276 N. El Camino Real #184 | Oceanside CA 92058 | 760-298-8146/Direct 760-216-1353/Cell |