How to Help Prevent Cluster Suicides
A suicide cluster may be defined as a group of suicides (or attempts) that happen in close proximity of time and/or space than one would expect in a certain community. Those at highest risk for cluster suicides include young people and university students.Suicide is often related to depression, social isolation, a loss of meaning in life.A suicide affects the whole community, and cluster suicides can deeply impact those living in a community. There are ways to prevent cluster suicides as well as respond to suicides in such a way to discourage further suicides from occurring.
Responding to a Suicide in the Community
Talk to those intimately affected first.Prior to any media coverage, make sure family and close friends are notified in person first.It can be traumatizing to find out a loved one has died via media. Instead, contact those most intimately involved first and deliver the news in person.
- Have someone trained in crisis care or therapy deliver the news to affected family and friends.
Identify vulnerable persons for a cluster suicide.To identify those most at risk after a suicide, assess for vulnerability. Those vulnerable may include people who had a negative interaction with the victim before the suicide and might feel this caused the suicide, people who encouraged the suicide or suicidal behavior, people who were in a suicide pact but did not follow through, those who saw suicide warning signs but failed to acknowledge them, people who have been previously suicidal, and those who have current mental health problems.These are people considered “high risk” after a suicide.
Screen those at high risk.Following a suicide that may spark cluster suicides, provide mental health screening for those that are considered high risk. Screenings should be performed by trained counselors. Individuals should be referred for further counseling or other mental health services if needed.
- Screen for mental or emotional health disturbances, symptoms of depression, and suicide risk.
Provide post-care after a suicide.Crisis intervention following a suicide can minimize and contain the effects following a suicide. Students may be affected even if they did not know the suicide victim personally. Efforts such as providing crisis care and prevention can minimize the risk of further suicides.
- Have crisis counselors available in schools and universities after a vulnerable event, and make sure students know these resources are readily available.
Offer case management services.For those affected long-term by a suicide (like close family and friends), case management can check in and make sure that these individuals are coping well. If not coping well, these services can offer help in finding ways to cope more effectively or to seek counseling services. Case management can follow up with vulnerable persons and those closely affected by a tragedy.
- Offering case management on schools and universities can help with suicide prevention and management.
Handling the Response After a Suicide
Have a plan.Before a tragedy strikes, have a plan prepared to deal with potential disasters. Prepare a plan before you need it. Discuss who will be involved, what roles need to be fulfilled, and how communication will occur. Get agencies involved that will agree to participate in an action plan.
Enlist help.Get educational and health agencies together. This includes hospitals, local schools and educators, clergy, students, parents groups (like PTA), survivor groups, police, media, representatives of education, public health, mental health, and local government. Especially if a problem is widespread, it’s good to have a standard response and way to help people.
- Discuss with each agency how it can provide support. For instance, parents involved with PTA can provide food or comfort items for students, clergy and mental health professionals can provide crisis counseling, and government can provide outreach resources.
Team together with many agencies for a public response.Team together with different agencies, including educational, public health/mental health, government, or other relevant agencies. Together, these agencies can coordinate the response plan and decide how best to respond to the public and direct the flow of information.
- Designate a “host” agency/coordinator to contact the other agencies and initiate plans.
Involve media.Media will likely respond to a suicide or cluster suicide, so make sure that it responds effectively. While reports will likely be made, it’s important to keep to focus off of glorifying the victims. Media should also be careful to minimize sensationalism.
- There are media guidelines which are important to follow. Prior to reporting, be clear on the guidelines.
- When sharing information to media, make sure that accurate and appropriate information is provided.
Shift the focus.Cluster suicides can become sensationalized if not well reported or dealt with well. Instead of focusing on the problems of suicide, communicate to people concrete steps for finding help for yourself or for others. Use successful implementation from other cities or schools as a model.
- Instead of focusing on sensationalism, stress the success of treatment and recovery from previous experiences in other cities or environments.
Increase mental health offerings during a crisis.If a community has been traumatized by suicide or a previous cluster suicide, it’s important to provide mental health services. Once the shock and media buzz dwindles, people may still feel the sting and trauma. Be careful around anniversaries, certain triggers (like other cluster suicides in a different location), or irresponsible media stories, and boost response.
- During these times, make sure that the community knows there is help. Increase the number of therapists and outreach to help people get through tough times.
- Hold large group sessions and provide individual counseling for community members.
- Having counselors on site for memorials, suicide anniversaries, and other events related to suicides may also be beneficial.
Enacting Preventative Measures
Address the environment.Think about any environmental factors that may increase the likelihood of suicide. This may include weather, political or social upheaval, or anything else that may increase the possibility of more suicides. Think about how these factors affect your community, and find ways to address or change them in a positive way.
- This can include the internet environment and how students interact with each other on the internet.
Provide more mental health services.If your school or local community does not have ample mental health services available on a regular basis, then consider expanding these resources. Add staff to existing counseling centers and include support groups. Schools and universities may want to make counseling services readily available to students and include support groups that meet during school hours for those that may be at risk of depression or suicide.
- Schools can communicate with parents and students on what offerings are available for mental health.
- Presentations to make students and other community members aware of available services may also help.
Provide mental health screening.Target services to at-risk individuals identified by screening for depression and suicide. Use mental health screening at schools and at primary care facilities.Local mental health providers can utilize schools, universities, and workplaces to screen for depression.
- Screening for depression is one way to target those who are suicidal and may cause harm to the self or others.
Video: Cluster Suicides
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