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May 1990                                                          
           HIGH SCHOOL SUICIDE CRISIS INTERVENTION                           


                       David Fisher, M.A.                                  
         Pinnellas County, Florida, Sheriff's Office        
     Teen suicide--a tragic reality--is a rising national 
teenagers. (1)  No school system or police department is immune 
from its psychological devastation.                               

     After two students at Dixie Hollins High School in Pinellas 
County, Florida, committed suicide, the number of reported 
administration established a suicide crisis intervention team.  
The team is composed of two assistant principals, two guidance 
counselors, and the school's resource officer (SRO), each of whom 

ROLE OF THE SRO                                             

     Most districts within the State of Florida have full-time 
addition to law enforcement duties, SROs counsel students, teach 
classes, and act as resources for the school.  Also, they receive 
training in crisis intervention and are the only persons on 

     The key to the effectiveness of SROs is gaining acceptance 
and credibility among both the students and faculty.  This can be 
active involvement in such school activities as sports events and 
musical programs, they can change the image of SROs from 
``enforcer'' to friend.  Presentations by the SROs on stress 
awareness and management to students and the faculty can also 

STUDENTS AT RISK                                               

     Suicide crisis intervention team members are trained to 
dentify those students who may be considering suicide.  They
also instruct teachers about the warning signs of suicide, 
because teachers have the most direct contact with students and 
are the most likely to recognize these signs first.               

     Warning signs can appear in written assignments turned in by 
times for adolescents, such as grading periods, homecoming, and 


     Upon referral, each student in crisis is seen by a team 
member as soon as possible.  Anyone seeking help is assured of 
confidentiality up front; however, the counselor will advise the 
mental health professionals to ensure personal safety.          

     Communication is never discouraged during counseling sessions.  
Team members allow the student to express thoughts and beliefs 
freely.  In many cases, just having an adult show concern and pay 
attention to what is being said is all that the student needs to 
ease the crisis.                                                  

     Usually only one team member counsels a student, but the 
other team members are later informed of the session.  However, 
victim is kept calm and is never left alone for any reason until 
additional help is obtained, and the team member having the best 


     Understanding teen suicidal behavior aids the evaluation 
commit suicide, rather the actions are simply a ``serious cry'' 
for help.  However, talk of suicide should not be dismissed or 
taken lightly.  There is always the danger that teens making 
the act or cause serious bodily injury.  Oftentimes, in suicidal 
other students and may feel the need to attempt suicide to ``save 

     With transient or situational depression, a young person may 
unsurmountable to adults, the perceived trauma levels may well be 
exceptionally high to teens who lack the experience and coping 

     Teens who are organically or chemically imbalanced are 

     The main operating principle of the suicide crisis 
ntervention team is to LISTEN, EVALUATE, AND GET HELP.  The
evaluation is not intended to be clinical in nature, but to 
assist in determining appropriate help options.             

SUICIDE ATTEMPTS                                  

     During an attempted suicide at school or a barricaded 
takes the necessary steps to ensure safety.  This includes trying 
to locate and secure weapons and drugs from the student, trying 
to coax the student into a secure area, such as an office, and 
administrators or backup officers may assist as needed.           

     If a firearm is involved, the SRO does not approach the 
the potential victim.  Because of the possibility of a hostage 
The SRO handles the situation alone until the weapon is secured.  

     As soon as possible, the SRO begins communicating with the 
ndividual by asking the student's name.  All conversation is
conducted in a calm, casual manner, during which the SRO 
expresses concern for the student's well-being and indicates a 
background data are obtained from school records and family 
members are notified, even though they are kept from the scene 
and are not allowed to converse with the student.                 

     Of course, in the case of serious injury or drug overdose, 
SRO takes custody of the individual by any means necessary and as 
medical transport.  The SRO should be aware of local medical 
facilities that accept psychiatric patients.                 

FOLLOWUP CARE                                                   

     Followup care could possibly be the most important part of 
to be over, and the individual appears to be recovering, there is 
the chance the teen is simply regaining energy to complete the 
keeps the student from feeling forgotten, isolated, or betrayed.  

     Once the student returns to school, there is a critical 
encouraged.  The student still needs to know that someone cares 
and that help is available by only asking for it.                 

     Helping the student develop and maintain positive 
nvolvement in school and community activities is also essential
been successfully used, and working with organizations having 
their energy and focus outward.                                   


     Members of the suicide crisis intervention team are not 
certified mental health professionals.  However, they are capable 
of evaluating the needs of a troubled student and getting the 

     By using such strategies as quick response intervention, 
building positive relationships with students, learning basic 
alert and assessment techniques, and being aware of available 
there have been no completed or life-threatening suicide attempts 
among the Dixie Hollins High School student population.     


(1) Richard H. Schwartz, M.D., Teenage Suicide: Symptom or 
Disease (Springfield, Virginia:  Straight, Inc., 1987), p. 4. 



High Priority Indicators
*  Active attempt or threat
*  Direct statements of suicidal intent
*  Recent attempts or self-inflicted injury
*  Making final arrangements, such as making a will or giving
   away items of personal value
*  Specific method or plan for suicide already chosen

Other Indicators
*  Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
*  Loss of interest in friends or activities
*  Depression/aggression (sometimes masked as vandalism or
   poor behavior)
*  Drug and/or alcohol abuse
*  Preoccupation with ``heavy metal'' music, morbidity, 
   satanism or the occult
*  Friend or relative who committed suicide
*  Previous suicide attempts
*  Excessive risk-taking
*  Recurrent or uncontrolled death thoughts or fantasies
*  Low self-esteem
*  Loss of a family member or relationship, particularly by
   death or rejection
*  Frequent mood swings/self-imposed isolation
*  History of child abuse (physical or sexual)
*  Chronic physical complaints or eating disorders
*  Sexual identity conflicts
*  Unreasonably high expectations for academic or athletic


*  Ensure backup and emergency service units are out of sight
   of the suicidal teen
*  Listen attentively and patiently, responding with
   understanding and empathy
*  Ask questions that encourage the teen to express feelings 
   or events leading to the crisis
*  Be nonjudgmental
*  Do not oversimplify solutions or make statements that 
   trivialize the situation
*  Avoid threatening gestures or flippant comments
*  Call in mental health professionals, clergy, or any one 
   else who could possibly reach the troubled teen
*  Suggest alternatives to suicide that can be made available
   to the teen
*  Do not rush--take whatever time or steps necessary to get 
   help for the troubled teen

                            HELP OPTIONS

*  Counseling
*  Contact parents
*  Peer support
*  Community resources, such as family counseling centers,
   licensed private agencies, hospital outpatient services,
   government agencies
*  Voluntary emergency mental health examination at a licensed
*  Involuntary examination and admission at an approved mental
   health facility