What role should schools play in preventing suicides?

Suicide is a leading cause of death among Minnesota teenagers. Seven teenagers in the Anoka-Hennepin School District took their own lives in the past year. Today’s Question: What role should schools play in preventing suicides?

  • A zero-tolerance bullying/harassment policy. Mandatory diversity training.

  • Matt

    I agree. I believe there should be zero tolerance for bullying or harassment.

    It also helps to have co-curricular activities which are engaging to the students, and have good coaching staff.

    My high school cross-country and lacrosse coaches were amazingly in tune with current trends, and did an excellent job of assisting students with personal issues when they arose.

  • Philip

    One thing that I am concerned about with this story is it only focuses on one segment of kids committing suicide. We in the army have received enormous amounts of training in suicide prevention over the past two years and one of the trends brought to light was the uptick in suicides by young people in general (under 25 y.o.). When the article simply focuses on one group (i.e. homosexuals) then it is ignoring the bigger picture. I believe this is about how young folks are dealing with life in general. The question should be how do we prevent suicide for the whole group and what is it that is driving them to this point where it didn’t in years past?

  • James

    Absolutely none! Big government can keep its hands off of my private life. What we need to be teaching teens is Personal Responsibility.


  • Linda

    I believe that there should be education about mental illness in health class. Many people probably know of someone who took their own life and are surprised. Too often everything looks good on the outside; athletic, good grades, popular,etc. and the person is quietly and privately struggling with despair that they don’t understand. When my daughter was in middle school someone from high school committed suicide. Friends, teachers and coaches were all surprised. There was a real effort to speak to the students about depression and suicide and it brought to light that our daughter was suffering in that same private painful way. It helped her to speak up and get some counseling.

  • jamex

    Zero tolerance policies, generally speaking, are stupid. They lead to ridiculous extremes like kids being strip searched because someone said they might have aspirin in their purse, or expelled because they brought a squirt gun to school.

    As for James/DTOM’s rant: what exactly is your definition of “big government”? A school principal who would like to help kids get through their high school years alive = big government?

    Hi folks, can we have a middle ground here, where people actually THINK about each situation and respond appropriately?

  • Al

    Policies are important, but the culture of the school and attitude towards bullying and troubled students communicated by the administration to the staff are the most important factors. Teachers, administrators, coaches, and other staff need to be on the watch for bullying and for students who appear to be suffering. The professionals in the building need to ask the question of themselves, “If this were my child, what would I want someone to do to help?” If the staff member doesn’t know what to do, they need to know that they can turn to someone else in the school to ask for help or for another opinion. There must be trusted counselors, deans, and/or administrators that teachers and coaches can use as resources when they see bullying or students who appear depressed. There must be followup by someone when a staff member has concerns about a student.

  • Mary

    Schools should teach about depression in health class. My daughter is alive today because of the education she got on this subject. It’s all about brain chemistry being mixed up. Thank God and the Hopkins schools she was taught how to keep herself safe.

  • Joanna

    Teens are bullied for many reasons, including perceived gender presentation, sexuality, but also for so many other reasons.

    My daughter’s high school has a gay-straight alliance group that meets with the support of the school administration, and caring adults. What I have learned from what she has told me is that this is a safe space for all kinds of problems to be shared, including the mental illness and substance abuse of some parents. The kids share their stories and support each other, and the adult can then help connect the teen with appropriate resources for any number of problems. Not all teens live in safe homes. The school also fosters a climate of acceptance and awareness by helping the teens create and implement their own programs of awareness around prejudice of all kinds. In other words, the school treats the students with respect, allows them to take leadership roles, and recognizes the need for leadership by adults in modeling ways of dealing with problems and finding help. I am grateful that my daughter and her friends, who are “different” enough that they might be bullied somewhere else, have access to a program like this. They are supported when they call out or stand up to bullies.

  • Schools should play a large roll in preventing sucides.

    – Children most likely spend more time at school than they do at home. Between school, after-school programs & socializing with their friends and sleeping at night – I’m sure that most kids spend more awake hours of the day away from their parents/homes than they do with their parents/home.

    – Education, via health class & general assemblies, to take the stigma OFF of mental illness. So many people in society still think that suicide & mental illness are “character flaws” and not an actual disorder. It isn’t a character flaw, though, and telling kids to “toughen up” isn’t going to help the way medical intervention will (therapy, medicine, etc).

    – Schools need to crack down on bullying. Teachers need to identify bullying – which can even come across as passive aggressiveness – and stop the behavior before it escalates.

    Of course, this doesn’t mean that responsibility is taken off of the parents and families – they need to participate as well.

  • Patricia

    After accidents and homicide, suicide is the leading cause of death of teenagers.* Staff at schools need to be trained and vigilant. Anti bullying legislation would help but can’t replace observant caring adults.

    *source: National Alliance on Mental Illness

  • Kevin VC

    To much in our schools are ‘industrialized’ and offered in a can at the ‘cheapest’ price due to budget cuts.

    And one are that this affects if class size. When you have too many students, a teacher never knows if anyone is struggling and ‘learn’ how to help that student.

    One thing that I learned as a student with others struggling is a appreciation of their struggle, and even as a student I learned to offer help. Something one looses when home schooled.

    Also when a student is in a smaller class he or she has more of a chance to be heard. Stress is a lot less, and ability to get past the problems is so much easier.

    And a Teacher has the ability to see students not as a number but a person. This is what is needed to be alert to stressors also to help catch and address potential suicides.

    So its more then if the schools should be responsible, but we in our support of education should collectively be responsible.

  • SueZ

    Mary and Linda are right. Teach about depression in health class to help remove the stigma and let kids know where they can go for help. God bless the teachers and coaches who listen and care!

  • Annie

    Bullying plays a pivotal role in not just these suicides but also the constant intimidation and humiliation of our high schoolers. My teenage son was bullied daily as ‘gay’, and beat up twice by bullies, merely because he’s a rather reserve guy. Luckily he was able to attend a charter school, and after a month of the new school, reports zero bullying. He’s a different kid. Unfortunately, his friends remaining at the original school lament the ongoing hallway and lunch room taunts. Some of these boys no longer participate in afterschool activities because of the meanspirited taunts.

    The problem was so significant that we looked for answers outside of the school. We followed the MN bill on schools’ responsibilities on bullying, and the ramped up procedures to deal with bullying. We were so pleased that it passed the House and Senate! Unfortunately our silver-spooned Governor chose to veto the well-vetted legislation, stating that there were rules already in place to handle bullying. The rules already in place are obviously not enough. The legislation’s only shortcoming was that it was initiated by the Democrats. Shame on this governor (He by the way seems to think it’s o.k. to engage in name calling — Governor “Nut Job” Pawlenty does not set a good example.)

    I have a great deal of respect for the work of the original school’s administrators. Unfortunately, their final reply to the bullying problem was “We are doing the best we can with what we’ve got”. Our high schools are too big, and the teachers are unwilling to step in because they are already overwhelmed with little support to deal with the problems kids bring to school. In this town (New Ulm), the jail looks better than the public high school (no joke). This is how we’ve chosen to spend our state’s money.

    My prayers and thoughts are with the families of these young people at A-H. No parent can endure a greater lose than the death of a child. That loss must be multiplied if the death is a suicide.

    Finally, a lot of this issue will resolve itself if our society would just get over the hostility it has for gays and lesbians.

  • JBL

    One of the issues that is complicating matters in Anoka-Hennepin is that they are facing yet another levy campaign next year. With their volatile electorate, they are concerned that if they do right by their GLBT students and staff, the anti-gay extremists will fire up and kill their levy. If their levy fails and state funding remains flat, they will be cutting 500 to 700 teachers. That is the kind of choice that makes even the best school board members pale.

    Take money out of the equation so that administrators create policies in the best interest of the students, not merely to get votes.

  • tom

    I worked in schools for 41 years. Schools do a very poor job fighting the bullies. School staff including principals are very much uninvolved in the issue of students picking on other students. They see it as somebody else’s problem. They have other things to do. Much could be done for almost no cost by taking a stand and backing it up with a little action. A few lawsuits would work wonders…..

  • Steve the Cynic

    How can we expect kids in school to refrain from bullying each other, when they see adults doing it all the time? From vicious political rhetoric to nasty gossip to predatory business practices, we’re teaching our kids all the time by our example that it’s okay, even admirable, to belittle, demean and exploit other human beings as a way of exalting one’s own status. Look in the mirror, folks!

  • Ben

    I believe the schools need to be more tolerant of everyone and not have poor policy’s like they did in Anoka.

  • Kevin M

    When I was in high school twelve years ago (as a heterosexual male) I was an awkward theater kid who was repeatedly checked into lockers, punched, and called a word that in some societies means “cigarette.” I’m not a religious man, but I thank whatever God may be looking out for me that I had a close group of friends (with whom I am still close) to give me the perspective to know that high school is a phase, and that those jerks making fun of anyone showing slight difference would someday take their place as the followers they were. I was lucky enough to have a network of people who taught me what the school didn’t: that despite the fact that I felt different and alienated a lot of the time, EVERYBODY ELSE DID TOO! That’s what high school is!

    I’m inclined to agree with jamex – zero tolerance doesn’t work, but neither does ignoring the problem. Complete deregulation can’t help, but neither can over regulation. Schools can’t keep popular kids from disliking nerdy, gay, or poor kids. No teacher or principal can enforce that kind of rule. However, if we are sending our children to a building for eight hours a day (at least), we should be able to assume our kids won’t be bullied to the point of severe depression at said building, and it is not too much to ask (nor is it a government overreach, James) to expect a teacher who sees someone picked on for who they are to stand up to the bully in defense of the victim. I don’t have children yet, but if and when I do, if I were ever to walk into a high school and find my son or daughter being victimized with no reproach I would contact an attorney faster than you can say “ACLU.”