- Psychological Issues
ERIC Identifier: ED315700
Publication Date: 1990-00-00
Author: Thompson, Rosemary
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Counseling and Personnel Services Ann Arbor MI.
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suicide or sudden loss among student populations has become a major concern for school counselors, teachers, parents and helping professionals. Within the context of the school-as-community, the self-destructive potential of young people is a major contemporary crisis. Classmates, parents, teachers, and relatives experience both the direct implications of a student’s death and the residual long-term effects of a significant loss. The devastating feelings of loss at a young age can be a traumatic experience for schools (Franson & Hunter, 1988). Inherently, personal loss or threat of loss also increases a person’s suicide risk. Precipitating stressors include depression; loss of a significant relationship; impulsivity; stress; substance abuse; negative life events; physical, sexual or emotional abuse; isolation; alienation; or a mystical concept of death (Ray & Johnson, 1983; Phi Delta Kappan, 1988).
Hawton (1986) and Perrone (1987) found that peers of adolescents who attempted suicide are vulnerable because suicide is higher:
Balk (1983) further identified acute emotional responses of students after the death of a peer. He revealed that while peer support and chances to talk with friends about the death at such a time of loss were important aids in coping with death, many peers feel uncomfortable talking about death. They frequently avoid the survivors to decrease their discomfort of not knowing what to say or how to say it. Balk maintained that young people sometimes hide their feelings of grief because such feelings often are not considered acceptable in public, and as a result, adolescents are often confused about the source of their recurring grief reactions.
The reactions of survivors who have experienced a suicide or sudden loss are likely to be complex, but typically include some or all of the following behavioral characteristics: denial, anger, blaming, shame, guilt, fear, intellectualization, or hostility. Stanford (1978) and Hunt (1987) further suggested the need for direct intervention in schools with survivors. Shneidman (1972) noted that when a death occurs, particularly of an unexpected nature, there is no pattern of behavior to draw upon, and confusion results. Teachers also need help in understanding and handling young people’s normal, yet often inappropriate, reactions to death. Young people often take clues as to how to react from the adults around them more than from the event itself. A paramount need is for counselors, educators and other support personnel to process the emotional needs of survivors. Intervention to enhance coping skills could ultimately prevent future suicides, or related self-destructive behavior.
Managing the First 48 Hours
When a young person commits suicide, or is the survivor of any kind of tragic death, the school counselor is confronted immediately with a number of serious problems:
The first 48 hours following a student’s suicide or tragic death are crucial. The specific things for a counselor and his or her staff to do during the first 48 hours are listed below:
Accepting the reality of the loss and confronting the fact that the person is dead are two of the most important initial tasks of mourning. The early denial and avoidance is quickly replaced by the realization of the loss and it is necessary to feel the pain of the loss and work through the grief process.
The grief process includes adjusting to an environment in which the deceased is missing. Survivors must face the loss of the many roles the deceased person filled in their life (e.g., classmate, team member, close friend). Students need to recognize that symptoms such as startle reactions, restlessness, agitation, sleeplessness, depression and anxiety are typical intense reactions to a traumatic experience such as death. Also essential is coming to terms with the anger one often feels toward (1) the person who has died, (2) oneself, and (3) others. A final task of mourning is to redirect the belief that one should have somehow prevented the death.
Young people continue to communicate their need for help in understanding their feelings of confusion, loss, alienation, loneliness, depression, anger, sadness, and guilt. Their ability to develop coping strategies for their uncomfortable but normal feelings and their ability to adjust to loss and maintain control over everyday life experiences, will ultimately be dependent on the assistance they obtain and the resources provided to them by the school-as-community. Counselors, administrators and other support personnel can provide the curative environment that fosters prevention and intervention with at-risk students. Collective efforts to provide structured programs and secure environments to “work through” significant losses are necessary to arrest the present cycle of self-destructive behavior of contemporary youth.
Rosemary Thompson, Ed.D., N.C.C. Supervisor of Primary Prevention and Early Intervention Programs Chesapeake Public Schools Chesapeake, Virginia 1990
This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of Educational research and Improvement, U.S. Department of Education, under contract no. RI88062011. The opinions expressed in this report do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the Department of Education.
Title: Suicide and Sudden Loss: Crisis Management in the Schools. Highlights: An ERIC/CAPS Digest.
Document Type: Information Analyses—ERIC Information Analysis Products (IAPs) (071); Information Analyses—ERIC Digests (Selected) in Full Text (073);
Available From: ERIC/CAPS, 2108 School of Education, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1259.
Descriptors: Coping, Counseling Techniques, Counselor Role, Crisis Intervention, Crisis Management, Death, Depression (Psychology), Elementary Secondary Education, Grief, School Involvement, School Role, stress Management, Suicide
Identifiers: ERIC Digests, Grief Counseling