Suicide is the second leading cause of death in the United States for persons aged 10-24.
In 2009, our Social Emotional Learning lessons were piloted as a response to the youth suicide clusters in Palo Alto. Concerned teachers and parents wanted to know what could be done in elementary school to strengthen student resilience, so that youth can better navigate their teen years. In the past 2 years, we’ve been offering teacher resilience groups at the high school level too.
Recently, Acknowledge Alliance was a key contributor to the K-12 Toolkit for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention, which is being promoted across the state. The State of California enacted into law the “Pupil Suicide Prevention Policies” requirement, AB2246. All California Local Education Agencies (LEAs) must have this policy in place by the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year. The Toolkit is included in the Model Policy as a resource for implementing this policy. The Toolkit contains information about what schools can do to promote youth mental wellness before mental health concerns arise, how to recognize and respond to a mental health crisis, and how to support a school community after a suicide loss. The Toolkit also supports a school’s primary goal to educate youth because mental wellness is essential to the ability to learn.
Sarah Kremer, our Resilience Consultation Program Director, co-wrote sections of the Toolkit on how helping students develop social and emotional wellness can aid in suicide prevention. Here are some excerpts:
A safe and caring school climate includes feeling safe at school, feeling part of decision--making, and having a sense of school connectedness, which “is the belief by students that adults and peers in the school care about their learning as well as about them as individuals”( CDC, 2009b, SAMHSA Toolkit, p. 12). Suicidal behavior can be reduced as a sense of school connectedness is increased. Combining suicide prevention with efforts to increase connectedness furthers both goals.
Part of mental health promotion and suicide prevention in youth lies in the development of students’ social and emotional wellness. (Note: “wellness” refers to overall emotional well-being for the purposes of this document.) Two evidence based strategies, Social Emotional Learning (SEL) and Mindfulness, share similar goals and outcomes for the emotional, social, and academic development of youth. Both enhance youth academic achievement and wellness, decrease risky behaviors, and improve relationships with peers and teachers. Each uses a different approach to achieve these outcomes (Lantieri, Zakrzewski, 2015). The SEL framework promotes intra-personal, interpersonal and cognitive competencies. Mindfulness, paying attention in a systematic way, deepens the internal ability to apply the skills learned through SEL. These strategies complement each other. SEL develops skills and Mindfulness enhances the ability to apply those skills such that a student can better understand themselves and others, develop meaningful relationships, and make constructive decisions.
This is why all our Acknowledge Alliance services around social emotional learning and resilience are so important. We intentionally support and work with everyone in school communities – students, teachers, principals, families and mental health counselors – to create positive learning environments that further personal growth, connectedness, happiness, success and hopeful futures.