College student sits at table battling depression

The Role of Schools and Universities in Suicide Prevention

Haeli Harris
September 1, 2023
August 25, 2023

“Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for teens and young adults, ages 10-34 (CDC, 2022)” (source)

Educational institutions can play a pivotal role not only in shaping minds but also in nurturing mental wellbeing. This Suicide Prevention Month, let us talk about and understand the vital role that schools and universities hold in the larger narrative of mental health and suicide prevention. 

In this blog post, I want to talk about how educational institutes can serve as fertile ground for fostering mental health support systems that eventually contribute to the prevention of suicide.

Understanding the Landscape:

Schools and universities are not just places for learning; they are like small worlds with various types of people with backgrounds, and experiences. While students are focused on learning, they are also dealing with personal growth, social interactions, and sometimes, mental health struggles. Recognizing this reality, educational institutions are increasingly acknowledging their responsibility in addressing the mental well-being of their students and staff.

Creating a Supportive Environment:

One of the primary roles of schools and universities in suicide prevention is the creation of a supportive environment. In 2019, 18.8% of high school students reported having seriously considered suicide, CDC, 2020.  A nurturing atmosphere encourages open conversations about mental health, reduces stigma, and normalizes seeking help. This can be achieved through awareness campaigns, workshops, and providing accessible resources for mental health support.

Promoting Mental Health Literacy

Education should extend beyond books; it should include fostering mental health literacy. Research shows that around 60% of students are unaware of the mental health resources available on their campuses. To address this issue, schools and universities can integrate mental health education into student curricula, empowering them with the knowledge to recognize signs of distress in themselves and others. This knowledge can equip them to take timely action and seek assistance when needed.

Providing Accessible Resources:

A university where students have easy access to counseling services, helplines, and mental health professionals, offers a safety net that can make a significant difference in preventing suicides. Schools and universities should ensure that these services are visible, available, and tailored to the unique needs of their student body.

Supporting Faculty and Staff

Educational institutions aren't solely comprised of students; they encompass faculty and staff as well. Acknowledging the mental health challenges faced by educators is crucial. By providing support systems and resources for teachers and staff, institutions contribute to a holistic approach to suicide prevention.

Collaboration and Partnerships

Addressing mental health and suicide prevention is a collective effort. Schools and universities can collaborate with mental health platforms, organizations, nonprofits, and local health services to enhance their support systems. Meaningful partnerships amplify the impact of initiatives and ensure that comprehensive care is available to the entire community.

Breaking the Stigma

The role of schools and universities in suicide prevention extends beyond immediate support. They also play a role in breaking the stigma associated with mental health challenges. For instance, over 30% of American college students feel homesick. Freshmen take it even worse, as 69% reported a feeling of severe homesickness.

 When students and staff witness their institutions prioritizing mental well-being, it encourages a broader societal shift toward destigmatizing mental health struggles.

Conclusion: Fostering a Culture of Care

Educational institutions have the power to serve as pillars of support and shaping a culture of care. On school and university campuses, where learning and personal growth are the core focus, embracing the responsibility of addressing mental health can be such a big step up!

Creating a nurturing environment is pivotal. Encouraging open dialogue to address the stigma around mental health-related topics can be a game changer among the youth population. By Integrating mental health literacy into education, students will be equipped with tools to identify distress signs and seek help at the right time. Accessible resources,faculty support, collaboration, and partnerships, all together can truly strengthen the foundation to address student mental health. By breaking the stigma, educational establishments can pave the way for societal change, creating a world where mental wellbeing is paramount.

For more information about how to handle someone feeling suicidal at work, please read this article.

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Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris, LMFT is the Director of Clinical Operations at Nivati. She has been practicing as a Marriage and Family Therapist since 2014. Haeli has experience working as a therapist in private practice settings, residential facilities, outpatient treatment care, schools, and telehealth.