When a student dies from an accident or illness, often times the school takes part in memorializing the student’s life, sometimes sponsoring a special event such as a run, selling T-shirts, or planting a tree. Why is it different when a student dies by suicide?
When a student dies, no matter how, a lot of attention is given to the student. A crisis team responds, counseling support is offered for students for multiple days, a moment of silence might be observed with a PA announcement, and usually team of counselors follows the student’s schedule to inform the classes, answer questions, and offer support.
After a few days of mourning, students usually want to do something in honor of their friend and classmate, but the school is usually more reluctant when a student has died from suicide. Suicide is tricky. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24, according to the World Health Organization.
Often teens commit suicide because they feel worthless or unnoticed. If another teen has died by suicide and starts receiving attention and suddenly becomes popular, even in death, it can seem appealing for someone with a clinical stage of depression, someone who has been idealizing or considering suicide themselves.
When schools react to suicide and start memorializing the deceased, it can send the wrong message and increase the likelihood of a copycat suicide by another hurting teen.
It’s sometimes hard for teens to understand when they are healthy and recently lost a friend to suicide. Why is my school being so insensitive? Why won’t they allow us to sell shirts, sponsor a memorial walk, have an assembly, or even sometimes allow the student to be remembered in a memorial garden like they did when a student died from a long term illness or even a sudden death such as a car accident?
If you lose a friend or classmate to suicide try to understand why a school might be skeptical of a request to do something in honor or to memorialize your classmate remember they are just trying to save other lives. You could make a suggestion that your school provide suicide prevention training to students, staff, and parents led by School Counselors, School Psychologists, or School Social Workers. To remember your friend, use their tragic death to help save a life instead of risking the chance to lose another.
Our thanks to Renée Zando for this article. Renée is a School Counseling Director at Hermitage High School in Virginia.