Chapter 4: After a student’s death from suicide

Communicating with the family

adults talking“Talking to her mother after it had happened was the most heart wrenching thing I ever had to do. But I knew I it was very important to consult with her before I announced the death to the staff and then the students. In addition to needing to confirm the student’s death, I wanted to reach out and show my support to the family before anything else”.  – Principal

Before speaking with your students, it’s important to obtain the family’s permission to share that suicide was the cause of death. Although the best possible scenario is that the family is willing to honestly share this information, at times you may have some challenges with this. 

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Family feels reluctantThe family may be reluctant to share that the cause of death was by suicide, perhaps because of feelings of shame, concerns about suicide contagion, or a wish for privacy; but it is likely that there will be rumours and the truth will eventually surface. As a result of social media, it’s not uncommon for students to learn about a death prior to the adults in their life, and they may have more information than the adults around them.
Family does not want to share cause of deathIf a family doesn’t want suicide to be reported as the cause of death, the designated contact person should clearly yet sensitively explain to the family that being honest about the cause of death can help keep students safe. Honest communication with them from the beginning helps to create the opportunity for ongoing dialogue within the school about suicide and mental health.
Family doesn’t provide permissionIf the family doesn’t provide permission to share that suicide was the cause of death, this creates a challenging situation. An option is to state that the family is requesting privacy around the details of their child’s death at this time.
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