For many students, suicide is not something that happens to other people—they are extremely familiar with its unfortunate reality, even in middle school.
So, how prevalent is teen suicide? Consider the following national statistics:
- In the United States, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for fifteen to twenty-four-year-olds, following accidents and homicides.
- One in six high school students has thoughts about suicide.
- 16.9 percent of high school students have made a suicide plan in the past twelve months.
- One in eleven high school students has made an attempt in the past twelve months.
- The suicide attempt rate has increased most dramatically for ten- to fourteen-year-olds.
- Of school psychologists surveyed, 86 percent have counseled a student who has threatened or attempted suicide.
- Of those psychologists, 62 percent have had a student make a nonfatal attempt at school.
- Of those psychologists, 35 percent have had a student in their school die by suicide, and more than half of them reported more than one death.
These troubling statistics tell us that at any given time, over 14.5 percent of our high school students are having thoughts about suicide and about 7 percent have actually made a suicide attempt in the last twelve months.2] While we may not know exactly who they are, these students are sitting in our classrooms. And although there may be a lot about suicide that we don’t understand, what we can say for sure is that students who are thinking about dying are not concentrating on academic studies.
As stated by the Carnegie Task Force on Education, “School systems are not responsible for meeting every need of their students, but when the need directly affects learning, the school must meet the challenge.”  By addressing teen suicide in a focused but comprehensive way, a school system can meet this challenge without overstepping its boundaries and becoming a mental health clinic. It can stand as a resource to potentially at-risk students by letting them know that the entire school community takes the problem of suicide seriously and has committed staff time and resources to addressing suicidal behavior.
Hazelden Publishing developed a comprehensive suicide prevention program is a whole-school program. Lifelines educates students on the facts about suicide and students’ role in suicide prevention. It provides information on where to find suicide prevention resources in the school and community. Training materials are included for faculty and staff that provide accurate and practical information on identifying and referring students who might be at risk for suicide. Lifelines also includes a presentation for parents that answers questions about youth suicide and prevention, and it involves them in the school’s suicide prevention activities.
Lifelines is designed for implementation in middle schools and high schools for students ages 12–17. It targets the whole school community by providing suicide awareness resources for administrators, faculty and staff, parents, and students. It fits easily into health class programming and lesson plans. Although the research and outcomes are based on school-wide implementation, Lifelines can also be a successful component to any community-based program, such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Boys and Girls Clubs of America
1. American Association of Suicidology, 2008 (data gathered in 2005). Check www.suicidology.org for updated statistics.
2. Youth Risk Behavior Survey (Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2007).
3. Ernest L. Boyer, The Basic School: A Community for Learning (Princeton, NJ: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1995).
Lifelines Suicide Prevention ResourcesLifelines Scope and Sequence - An in-depth scope and sequence of the Lifelines Suicide Prevention Program.
Lifelines Overview - An overview of the Lifelines program.