Ministry Of Education Guidelines on Suicide

"Young People at Risk of Suicide", the 32-page booklet provides practical advice and recommendations for schools.

  • Contains a fold-out table for assessing at risk students.
  • Claims that some suicide-awareness programmes are questionable.
  • The safest approach is to identify at-risk students and guide them to qualified people who can help.
  • Classroom discussion of suicide is taboo.
The Ministry of Education has published a review and discussion document to assist school counsellors and teaching staff deal with suicide issues - entitled "Young People at Risk of Suicide".

First published in 1999 and reprinted in 2001, it is an attractive and comprehensive, 32-page booklet, providing advice and recommended procedures.

New Zealand academics specialising in suicide prevention, first published a report in 1996 and this became the basis for the guide, a joint project between the Ministry of Education and the National Health Committee.

Useful features to look for in the guide:

The fold-out assessment plan

Page 13 contains a fold-out table for assessing at-risk students. Down the left-hand column is a simple list of areas to consider, with the rest of the columns divided into "Low risk, moderate and high risk" categories of behaviour and circumstances.

This handy tool functions as a ready reckoner, enabling rapid initial assessment in the school situation.

Direct questions are recommended as the student is unlikely to volunteer information.

The authors point out that "direct questioning will not aggravate the risk of suicide, but failure to fully investigate, categorise the risk and respond appropriately, may result in a suicide that could have been avoided."

The following pages then provide detailed background information to further assist the teacher or counsellor to complete the initial assessment.

The fold-out management plan:

Under "Action" the left-hand column lists "Immediate intervention, Consultation, Referral and Follow Up", opposite the advice under "Low, Moderate and High Risk" categories. The following pages then provide detailed background information.

In summary, the guide provides a teacher or counsellor with the means to intervene, evaluate the risk and manage the situation effectively.

(The guidelines can be obtained from SPINZ, or from David Burgen at Ministry of Education. (04) 463 8530 There are two documents. A small spiral bound booklet and a large A4 one.)

Some youth suicide prevention approaches are controversial. School-based suicide prevention programmes have elicited emotional responses and debate about the best practises in suicide prevention.

The Guide For Schools emphasises that the main thrust of school-based suicide prevention programmes should be on identifying those who are at risk and then seeking appropriate support, care and management for them.

The guidelines state that there is no evidence to support suicide-specific programmes in schools (alluding to programmes that discuss suicide and raise suicide awareness). They warn of the need for a cautious approach to supporting such programmes and instead suggest that schools implement programmes targeting mental wellbeing generally (Beautrais et al 1997).

Suicide is a taboo subject in most New Zealand classrooms. Curriculum components specifically exclude suicide. The guide's authors recommend that teaching and discussion of suicide to children of all ages is NOT undertaken, although health education programmes should promote self-esteem and address adolescent difficulties in general.

And this is happening

Mental Health Matters, a mental health awareness curriculum for junior secondary schools, has been implemented in over 200 secondary schools throughout New Zealand by the Mental Health Foundation.

Commentary

Margaret Mourant, writes in her book on depression, The Silver Lining:

"Suicide is still a taboo subject in our society - even more so than other forms of dying which are bad enough.

But fears must be brought into the light of day and talked about. For then they become manageable and appropriate help can be sought." (page 53)