K-12 schools have a legal and ethical obligation to keep students safe – even from themselves.
But do teachers and administrators feel they have the awareness and suicide first aid skills needed to identify and respond to a student at risk of suicide?
Several states, the Centers for Disease Control and branches of the U.S. Armed Forces have adopted the Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) program, an internationally-recognized suicide intervention training model focused on creating an empathic connection between the person at risk and the person responding to them.
Assistant Professor Laura Shannonhouse and her research team examined how this model can be used in schools and published their findings earlier this year in the Journal of Counseling and Development, which earned her the American Counseling Association’s Best Practices Research Award.
For this study, Shannonhouse and her colleagues offered several ASIST trainings to 149 K-12 school personnel who “students naturally gravitate toward” – teachers, administrators and school counselors – and found that no matter what role they played in schools, ASIST training participants expressed greater comfort and confidence, as well as increased intervention skills, in working with students at risk of suicide.*
“Instead of simply identifying and referring a student at risk, this model leverages existing ‘natural helpers’ and builds capacity,” she said. “Having a school community with many staff members who are well equipped to provide suicide intervention enables school counselors to provide even more comprehensive service to at-risk youth.”
Shannonhouse and her team noted that further research should be conducted to determine if ASIST training can be applied to students demonstrating other problematic behaviors, such as self-injury (i.e. cutting) and disobeying teachers’ instructions. They also want to know how school systems can support those who are trained and what institutional supports are needed to position ASIST-trained K-12 school personnel to respond to youth at risk of suicide in the moment needed.
She’s currently conducting a study in a large county school system near metro-Atlanta to examine how students respond to ASIST interventions and has other studies in development that will explore measurement issues, social networks in schools and how ASIST would impact health care settings.
*To read the full article, visit https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/jcad.12112/full.