Theravive Home

Therapy News And Blogging

October 26, 2019
by Elizabeth Pratt

Strong Connections Between Students and Staff Lowers Suicide Rates in High Schools

October 26, 2019 08:00 by Elizabeth Pratt  [About the Author]

At a high school in Portland, a student brought a gun to school. 

Authorities say the 19-year-old was in the midst of a mental health crisis when he walked in to a classroom with a loaded shotgun. 

The high school football and track coach, also the school’s security guard, lunged for the gun and disarmed the student as the other students fled. 

Video footage from that day in May shows the coach emerging from the classroom, passing the gun to another adult who quickly takes it away. The coach then embraces the student in a bearhug. 

In subsequent media interviews, the coach stated in that moment he felt compassion for the student. 

Investigations revealed the student only intended to hurt himself with the gun, and not others. He was sentenced to three years probation and is receiving treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues. 

The coach has been lauded as a hero for disarming and subsequently showing compassion to a student in a dark moment. 

The amount of suicide attempts in children and teens is on the rise. In 2015, there were 1.2 million emergency room visits due to suicide attempts or suicidal ideation in children ages 5 to 18 years old. In 2007, that number was much lower at 580 thousand.

Rates of suicide in young people have been increasing by nearly 2 per cent every year. Suicide is now the second leading cause of death for those aged 10 to 18 in the United States. 

A recent study found that in high schools where students are more connected to their peers and adult staff, and have strong relationships with staff, there are lower rates of suicide attempts.

The researchers conducted a survey of more than 10 thousand students from 38 high schools. They were asked to name up to seven of their closest friends at school, and up to seven adults at school they trusted and felt they could speak about personal matters. 

Gathering this data, the researchers were able to determine whether differences in social networks between different schools resulted in different rates of either suicidal ideation or suicide attempts.

“One of the key findings is that schools in which youth are more isolated from adults – fewer students identify specific adults they trust – have higher rates of suicide attempts. Conversely, schools where student have connected to trusted adults and identify key adults have lower suicide attempt rates,” Peter Wyman, PhD, lead author of the study and a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Rochester School of Medicine told Theravive. 

“When more student share trusted adults with their friends that adds more protective value. Intergenerational cohesion (students who are friends sharing the same trusted adults) may add protection because friends can more easily ‘close the circle’ by engaging an adult for support that they know they friend is already connected to.”

The study found that schools in which 10 per cent or more students were isolated from the adults saw a 20 per cent increase in suicide attempts in students.

Rates of suicide attempts and suicidal ideation were highest in the schools where students had fewer friends, where friendship groups involved fewer students and where students’ friends were less likely to be friends with each other.   

“Work over decades has shown that strong social bonds are protective in reducing suicide risk. Schools are key settings for youth socialization, and in many communities are a central place for youth to develop bonds to competent adults. Learning more about the types of school environments that promote protective youth-adult bonds and reduce risk for suicidal behavior could strengthen a tool for suicide prevention,” Wyman said.

He is hopeful the research will help schools create better interventions for students who may be suicidal. He suggests school should look at the characteristics of staff, their diversity and their attitudes about students. He also suggests an examination of the climate of school leadership.

Training staff and students to promote positive social behaviours in schools is also important.

“Training for adults in how to build strong bonds, identify students who are isolated and make long-term sustainable plans to develop youth-adult connections are all things that schools can do,” he said. 

About the Author

Elizabeth Pratt

Elizabeth Pratt is a medical journalist and producer. Her work has appeared on Healthline, The Huffington Post, Fox News, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Sydney Morning Herald,, Escape, The Cusp and Skyscanner. You can read more of her articles here. Or learn more about Elizabeth and contact her via her LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.

Comments are closed