Asking About Suicide Is Vital for Suicide Prevention in Schools and Colleges
Every school can contribute to suicide prevention and save lives. Statistics show school-age children worldwide are at risk, from their early years to young adulthood.
Almost 16% of high school students and 8% of college students in the United States have seriously considered suicide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the U.S., nearly 10% of high school students attempt suicide each year, and suicide is the second leading cause of death among youth ages 10–24, CDC figures show. Around the world, suicide is the leading cause of death of adolescent girls, according to the World Health Organization.
The Columbia Protocol Is Helping Schools Save Lives and Target Resources
People working in academic settings can help save lives, increase school safety, and use school resources more efficiently by identifying students who are most at risk for suicide and directing them to the support they need. Schools also need to be better prepared when a student asks for help; many teachers report being approached by an at-risk child. And students themselves need to know the questions to ask a friend or classmate when they believe they have reason for concern.
The Columbia Protocol, also known as the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS), provides the right questions to ask. The protocol is the ideal risk assessment tool for any school’s suicide prevention strategy because it’s:
- Simple. Ask all the questions in a few moments or minutes — with no mental health training required to ask them. Anyone can use it, including counselors, nurses, teachers, students, coaches, resident assistants, and social workers.
- Efficient. Use of the Columbia Protocol redirects resources to where they’re needed most. It reduces unnecessary referrals and interventions by more accurately identifying who needs help — and it makes it easier to correctly identify the level of support a person needs, such as patient safety monitoring procedures, counseling, or emergency room care.
- Effective. Real-world experience and data show that the protocol has helped prevent suicide.
- Free. The protocol and the training on how to use it are available free of charge for use in community and healthcare settings, as well as in federally funded or nonprofit research.
- Universal. The Columbia Protocol is suitable for all ages and special populations in different settings and is available in more than 140 country-specific languages.
- Evidence-supported. An unprecedented amount of research has validated the relevance and effectiveness of the questions used in the Columbia Protocol to assess suicide risk, making it the most evidence-based tool of its kind.
Contrary to some fears, asking direct questions about suicide won’t make someone suicidal and might actually reduce suicidal thoughts, according to a review of more than a dozen studies published since 2001. That includes a study of more than 2,300 high school students that found the questions actually lowered distress for depressed students. Many students are relieved and thankful when someone asks them if they are thinking about hurting themselves, so they can get help. The risk is in not asking.
CT Alliance to Benefit Law Enforcement worked with mobile crisis providers to develop C-SSRS tear off sheets, improving communication with hospitals where, upon arrival, they share the C-SSRS findings. A CT school counselor used the C-SSRS to identify a 4th grader who was suicidal. He was sent to mobile crisis services who confirmed his C-SSRS results. He was then brought to the hospital who provided counseling and safety planning. This timely intervention and continuity of care was all facilitated by each touch point using the common language of the C-SSRS.