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Self-Harm & Suicide Prevention

Social-Emotional Learning and Suicide Prevention in Schools

March 3 201935 min read

Written By:

Dr. Lori Vollandt

Ed D. - Co-founder, Achieve Beyond the Binder


Introduction

There is an old parable about a fishing village, where each day, the fishermen had to rescue residents from nearly drowning in the river downstream. Knowing this was not sustainable, the fishermen decided that instead of rescuing victims, they would discover how villagers were falling into the river in the first place. They ventured upstream to discover a dangerous overlook on a cliff where people were losing their footing and falling into the river. After building a protective barrier and safeguarding the edge, the fisherman no longer had to rescue drowning victims.

For the past 27 years, I have worked as an educator and later as a Coordinator of Health Education Programs for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the second largest school district in the nation. In that time, I've seen how educators and communities can form “protective barriers” to curb the devastating consequences of youth suicide. The idea of “upstreaming,” or identifying and mitigating the source of a crisis, has been the focus of my career as a teacher, advocate and school district administrator. All too often, after a crisis occurs, the common question arises: “Why didn't someone do something?”

Promoting social-emotional learning is doing something. The objective of this white paper is to explore how supporting social-emotional learning (SEL) is a way for schools to create healthy environments for students and provide them with lifelong skills for successfully navigating life's challenges, including how to cope with suicidal ideation and self-harming behaviors. SEL initiatives, especially when provided in tandem with suicide prevention programs, can safeguard students from becoming vulnerable and at-risk in the first place. Applying “upstreaming” techniques like social-emotional learning is a foundational measure necessary to protecting the safety of students and preventing youth suicide in school communities.


Chapter 1

The Problem

Youth suicide is a major public health issue that today's schools simply cannot ignore. Nationwide, within the timeframe of one year, 16% of high school students reported seriously considering suicide, 13% said they had made a plan to take their own life, and 8% of students reported actually making an attempt.(1) That means that over the course of one year, in the average high school of 500 students, 40 young people will actively try to end their lives by suicide. Even more tragically, since 2000, the rate of death by suicide has increased by 30% for boys age 15-19 and has doubled for girls the same age.(2)

...within the timeframe of one year, 16% of high school students reported seriously considering suicide...

The reality is that suicide is preventable and the more we understand about social-emotional learning, suicidal ideation online, and what actions have proven to be effective, the better we can be prepared to help our students and families.


Chapter 2

How are Schools Involved?

Schools have an essential role to play in preventing suicide. Schools are a natural location for suicide prevention, given that school sites are where youth spend a significant amount of time, and also considering a district's implicit responsibility to protect the welfare of its students. As a standard, school districts should have best practices and policies in place that identify clear roles and responsibilities in the event that a student is at-risk. These policies should also include plans that address imminent danger, re-entry and even a plan for responding to the aftermath of a death by suicide. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides a Model School District Policy on Suicide Prevention, an excellent resource for best practices and policies for suicide prevention in schools.

...schools are uniquely situated to support student development holistically, and, as a result, play an important role in suicide prevention.

In recent years, there has been a nationwide shift underway regarding school involvement in preventative measures. This shift has involved an increased emphasis on the connection between student wellness and academic achievement across previously fragmented school departments and disciplines. This reorientation has also led to greater alignment, integration, and collaboration between education and health professionals to improve each child's cognitive, physical, social, and emotional development. Public health and education serve the same children, often in the same setting. In this way, schools are uniquely situated to support student development holistically, and, as a result, play an important role in suicide prevention.


Chapter 3

A Shift in Thinking: The Whole Child Approach, MTSS, & School Wellness Policies

To help schools understand the interconnectedness of how factors outside the academic realm impact our students, a partnership was formed between the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD). This partnership formed the basis of The Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) model, which builds upon CDC's coordinated school health (CSH) approach, and combines it with ASCD's Whole Child approach. The resulting Whole Child model was the outcome of a collaboration between key leaders from the fields of public health and education, and was based on the crucial recognition that a student's physical and emotional health is absolutely integral to educational outcomes.

Most recently, LAUSD has worked to align ASCD's Whole Child model with the California Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS): a comprehensive framework that aligns academic, behavioral, and social-emotional learning in an integrated system of support for the benefit of all students. MTSS offers the potential to create systemic change in areas like social-emotional learning and suicide prevention, through the intentional design of services necessary for all students' academic, behavioral and social success.

1. Multi-Tiered System of Support

An integrated, comprehensive framework that focuses on instruction, differentiated learning, student- centered learning, individualized student needs, and the alignment of systems necessary for all students' academic, behavioral, and social success. -CDE, 2017

2. Implementation Science

The study of factors that influence the full and effective use of innovations in practice. The factors are identified or developed and demonstrated in practice, to “influence the full and effective use of innovations.” Each factor and the factors in combination are subject to continued study along a continuum of improvement - NIRN, 2015

3. Improvement Science

Explicitly designed to accelerate learning- by-doing. As the improvement process advances, previously invisible problems often emerge and improvement activities may need to tack in new directions. The overall goal is to develop the necessary know how for a reform idea ultimately to spread faster and more effectively. It is an iterative process often extending over considerable periods of time. - Carnegie Foundation, 2017

School districts are also being asked to implement federally-mandated wellness policies, which include a focus on mental health supports. These wellness policies are helping to define effective strategies for addressing overall health and mental health issues.

Importantly, in the past decade, LAUSD introduced their own Blueprint for Wellness, an example of a district-wide Wellness Policy. The Blueprint for Wellness acknowledges that students and families face increasing health risks that can affect their wellness, quality of life and, possibly, their lifespan. The Blueprint for Wellness can be used as a catalyst to organize resources around mental health services and successful SEL implementation in education.

The introduction of new wellness policies as well as the Whole Child approach to education point to an evolution happening across schools regarding their involvement in preventing youth suicide. ASCD's Whole Child approach is an effort to transition from a focus on narrowly defined academic achievement to one that promotes the long-term development and success of all children, which includes social-emotional learning and mental health. MTSS highlights social-emotional learning as an integral piece of serving the whole child, and school wellness policies help organize the supports that are not academic-based, but are highly important to ensuring students are supported and ready to learn.

This shift in thinking has also expanded the responsibility of suicide prevention to a wide cross-section of the school community, linking groups that may not have been connected before. With an increased emphasis on improving school climates and providing support for student's academic, social and behavioral success, schools are adopting new programs, including more comprehensive suicide prevention programs.


Chapter 4

What is Social-Emotional Learning's Role in Suicide Prevention?

Social-emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.(3)

...research and best practice literature specifically highlights school-based social-emotional learning as an effective upstream approach to suicide prevention.(5)

The research on suicide prevention strongly recommends implementing universal approaches to supporting youth mental wellness before suicidal thoughts and behaviors can develop.(4) An increasingly popular way for schools to accomplish this is through social-emotional learning. SEL provides a strong school-wide foundation for supporting student mental health and wellness. SEL is also an evidence-based, Tier 1 practice for the Response to Intervention(RTI) Multi-tiered System of Support (MTSS) and Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) approaches. SEL brings together parallel processes across agencies that influence mental health, education, public health, research and the community. Social-emotional learning has a place in all of these initiatives and can act as a focal point for unifying language and efforts in support of student well-being.

Furthermore, the research and best practice literature specifically highlights school-based social-emotional learning as an effective upstream approach to suicide prevention.(5) SEL teaches life skills shown to protect students from suicidal behaviors by increasing their social connections and improving their ability to cope with everyday challenges and stressors.


Chapter 5

Suicide Risk and Protective Factors

Research has identified Risk Factors that increase the risk of suicide for young people and Protective Factors that can buffer students from suicidal thoughts and behavior.(6) By targeting these Risk and Protective factors, SEL can be an effective public health approach to the crisis of youth suicide.(7)

Risk Factors are factors that have been shown to increase the likelihood that young people will have suicidal thoughts and behaviors. Research has demonstrated that SEL programs can reduce important suicide risk factors such as social isolation, or lack of social belonging, and impulsivity.(8) Teens who are impulsive, especially those who are prone to impulsive aggression, are at higher risk for suicide in part because an impulsive teen may be more likely to act quickly on suicidal thoughts.(9) A lack of coping skills for managing stress also increases teen risk for suicidal thoughts(10) and behaviors, and these coping skills are typically strengthened in SEL programs.

Well implemented, evidence-based SEL programs also effectively increase self-control(11). Youth who have poor control of their emotions and behaviors are more likely to develop mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders that dramatically increase the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions.(12) Young people with less developed self-control are also more vulnerable to suicide contagion effects.(13)

Protective Factors help buffer the effects of Risk Factors and directly protect youth from suicidal thoughts and behaviors.(14) SEL programs help reduce suicide risk by strengthening Protective Factors such as problem-solving, stress-coping skills, and conflict resolution skills.(15) SEL programs help young people learn to handle disputes in nonviolent ways, which also lowers suicide risk.(16) The risk of suicidal thoughts and behaviors has been found to be decreased when students are better at communication, problem-solving, conflict resolution, help-seeking, and coping – all competencies specifically targeted by SEL programs.(17)

Suicide Risk & Protective Factors Impacted by SEL

Risk Factors
  • Social isolation, or lack of social belonging

  • Impulsivity

  • Low stress tolerance

  • Emotion Management

  • Self-control

Protective Factors
  • Problem-solving

  • Stress-coping

  • Conflict resolution skills

  • Communication skills

  • Assertiveness

  • Supportive relationships

  • Peer connections

  • School connectedness


Chapter 6

Prevention Through Social Connectedness

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified strengthening social connectedness as the focus of their National Strategy for Suicide Prevention, as substantial evidence supports the view that social connectedness reduces risk of suicidal thoughts and behavior.(18) The CDC defines connectedness as “the degree to which a person or group is socially close, interrelated, or shares resources with other persons or groups”. This points to the greater value of SEL, as one of the primary purposes of SEL programs is to increase close and supportive interpersonal relationships and social engagement. In sum, SEL programs in education can help decrease suicide risk by helping to foster school and community connectedness.(19)

...substantial evidence supports the view that social connectedness reduces risk of suicidal thoughts...

Ultimately, social-emotional learning is a critically important strategy for helping students develop the skills and mindsets that support their mental health, resilience, and well-being, and thus, SEL should be integrated as an essential component to district suicide prevention programs.


Chapter 7

How has LAUSD Tackled Suicide Prevention?

Supporting Student Mental Health

One of the chief ways LAUSD has provided suicide prevention programs is through the district's long history of providing mental health services to students through social workers and at school-based health clinics across the 710 square miles it covers. It is important to note that schools, not only in Los Angeles but nationwide, have become the de facto sites for mental health services for children and youth. While only 20% of students who need mental health services receive them(20), 80% of those services are delivered at schools.(21)

...only 20% of students who need mental health services receive them(20), 80% of those services are delivered at schools.

Part of creating a safe and welcoming learning environment is ensuring that students in crisis have pathways to accessing help. Effective school mental health programs are founded upon the understanding that the responsibility for supporting student mental health and in particular, suicide prevention efforts, is shared by everyone in the school community. It is for this reason that LAUSD wrote a comprehensive and inclusive mental health and wellness policy, including a professional development plan for all employees, not just teachers.

Creating Effective Mental Health and Wellness Policies

In order to craft impactful and comprehensive mental health and wellness policies, LAUSD brought together a range of experts from within the district, as well as external experts from research universities, government agencies and community-based organizations. The creation of LAUSD's Health and Wellness Policy and Suicide Prevention Policy was truly a whole-district effort to ensure policies, toolkits and professional development met the diverse needs of students, families, staff and the community. Part of what has made LAUSD's mental health policies successful is the fact that they were created with the understanding that no policy should be inherently static. Once a policy is written, it starts being reimagined almost instantly. LAUSD is constantly looking at research, listening to end users and striving to keep the documents useful and current. Students show up to school with changing needs, so the resources and procedures need to be adaptable to those needs, while still meeting legal parameters.

One High School's Experience

To better understand the scope of the effect suicide can have on the greater school community, and the resources required to prevent fallout after a crisis, one high school's experience is worth highlighting.

One high school in Southern California came back from the 2016 summer break to the news that one of their students had died by suicide. The immediate response was crisis counseling for students provided by the site social worker, academic counselors, and school site administrators. This cascaded into multiple referrals of students with suicidal ideation and the hospitalization of two students with non-fatal suicide attempts.

The entire academic year, the staff of the school was on high alert and hypervigilant in trying to anticipate and meet the needs of their students and staff. The exhaustion was visible on the faces of those tasked with finding solutions and supports for students and their families. The entire school community was under ongoing and extreme stress.

Best Practice #1: Creating a School Team

A team was assembled, led by the principal, to work on the upstreaming of effective programs, and to provide opportunities for students and staff to actively participate in the planning and implementation of agreed upon goals and activities.

The most urgent task was to address the crisis, followed by intervention and then establishing a prevention plan. As the year progressed, prevention shifted into the top priority as the need for crisis intervention decreased.

Best Practice #2: Increasing School Connectedness and Student Support

The high school's data from the district's School Experience Survey revealed that student connectedness was one of the areas where the school scored lower than the district average. As a result, a team of school leaders and students united together with the goal of building a stronger and more compassionate school community where people took care of each other.

A concerted effort was made to build community, nurture school culture, reduce social isolation, and support student and staff help-seeking behaviors. This effort was rooted in aforementioned research that suicidal behavior can be reduced as students' sense of school connectedness is increased (see page 8 of this paper).(22)

The district's prevention team decided to create opportunities to build community through putting into place two practices developed by Sandy Hook Promise: Start with Hello! and Say Something. Start with Hello! is a program that encourages students to take small but powerful actions to promote social connectedness and inclusion, and to identify others who are showing signs of social isolation. Say Something teaches students, grades 6-12, how to look for warning signs, signals and threats, of an individual who may be a threat to themselves or others and to say something to a trusted adult to get help. The school also introduced Character Day (a day where students, families, and educators from around the world screen films to spark dialog around character development), started providing students with mindfulness practices, and strengthened connections to community-based organizations.

The school had already been delivering social-emotional learning programming, but largely with a focus on skill building to support academic achievement. School leaders decided to expand those efforts to intentionally focus on providing support for student mental health and well-being, in part by expanding the scope of SEL to include mindfulness practices.

Best Practice #3: Introducing Mindfulness Practices

Mindfulness practices help students learn to be more aware of their thoughts and feelings, so that they are less likely to react to thoughts in negative or impulsive ways. These skills are crucial to helping students improve their ability to cope with stress and challenges.

This has important implications for suicide prevention - in fact, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) is an intervention that has been shown to help reduce suicidal ideations and behaviors. Learning mindfulness can also help students improve their attention and focusing skills, increase their self-control, and reduce their anxiety.(23) Mindfulness practices can also help teachers strengthen relationships with students and create a more positive learning environment.(24)

The principal invited teachers as well as students to participate in mindfulness activities and the response was enthusiastic. A district social-emotional learning wellness facilitator taught mindfulness classes to both students and teachers, and approximately 2,000 students participated. While the participation was voluntary, about 98-99% of students took part.

Students reported that the 3-5 minute mindfulness practices helped reduce stress. Students also reported that the regular mindfulness practice helped them feel more peaceful and less isolated, and mitigated feelings of anxiety. As one student put it, “It [the mindfulness practice] gives me great peace and helps me deal with my anxiety and depression.” Teachers and students alike have opted to continue this practice into the next school year.

Best Practice #4: Student Involvement

The SEL subcommittee of the school site team is still very active and believes that student participation and involvement is key to the effectiveness of the school's suicide prevention efforts. A lead teacher and four students recently participated in a three week retreat with Seeds for Peace, a program that equips youth and educators with the skills to lead in communities divided by conflict. They are enthusiastically looking forward to implementing their ideas on how to enhance SEL and suicide prevention programs this coming school year.

Legislative Support

On September 26, 2016, at the same time that this high school was creating their suicide prevention plan, California's Model Youth Suicide Prevention Policy, Assembly Bill 2246, was approved. This California state law requires all Local Educational Agencies (including county offices of education, school districts, state special schools, and charter schools) serving students in grades 7-12 to adopt a policy on student suicide prevention, intervention, and postvention.

California's Model Youth Suicide Prevention Policy was developed in consultation with school and community stakeholders, school mental health professionals, and suicide prevention experts. The law gave schools hard deadlines and specific goals to help shape clear school-based suicide prevention and intervention programs, and supported the efforts already underway at the LAUSD high school.


Chapter 8

How can schools assess their SEL efforts and measure impact?

Primary Approaches to Implementation

There are two common approaches to implementing social-emotional learning: 1) utilizing formal SEL curricula, or manualized programs and, 2) working to integrate support for student social-emotional competence throughout the school day. These two approaches complement each other and the most efficacious approach is perhaps a combination of the two, but they do differ when it comes to assessment.

SEL programs are most effective when students receive all, or close to all, of the planned program lessons or content.

Tracking What's Actually Happening

One aspect of SEL assessment that primarily applies to the first implementation approach of utilizing formal SEL curricula is: tracking and measuring implementation metrics. Research shows that SEL programs are most effective when students receive all, or close to all, of the planned program lessons or content. By tracking how many lessons are actually taught, schools can check whether any disappointing outcome data could simply be due to students not receiving a sufficient dose of the curriculum. You cannot expect a program to work if it's not delivered.

Immediate Competencies Versus Long-Term Outcomes

There are two key categories to measure to see how well SEL efforts are working:

  1. improvements in social-emotional competencies

  2. positive outcomes

Measuring student social-emotional competencies allows schools to assess the content and skills SEL initiatives teach students. These elements may include direct impacts such as improved empathy, emotion management, self-awareness, or impulse control. Schools can also measure changes in student competencies as a way to gauge program impact. That data can also be used formatively to help schools shape and improve SEL efforts as they are applied.

Outcomes are the changes in student attitudes and behavior we hope will result from improving student social-emotional competencies, such as greater school connectedness, better peer relationships, less problem behavior, fewer disciplinary referrals, etc. Keep in mind that many student behaviors (bullying is a prime example) naturally get worse over the course of the school year, which can be misleading if you are comparing data from fall to spring semesters to evaluate your SEL impact. If you are measuring student behavior, a best practice is to examine data from the same time of the year across school years, or over smaller periods of time during the school year.

Many school districts look at data from the School Experience Survey for both formative and summative assessments of their SEL efforts. The School Experience Survey is administered each fall in all LAUSD schools. Survey results provide schools with important feedback from teachers, staff, students and parents.

One example of a student response from the School Experience Survey that can be used to evaluate a SEL program is:

“Students have a voice in decision-making at my school.”

One of the core SEL competencies is responsible decision-making. One strategy for improving responsible decision-making is to provide opportunities for students to influence school decision-making. These opportunities could be offered in expanded learning time, after-school or during class. To assess this SEL competency, questions could be asked and answers checked every few weeks to see if the survey results were shifted by the actions taken. This targeted short-term assessment can help schools see if they are moving toward their goals without waiting a year for a survey to take place.

Giving Students a Voice in SEL Assessments

Another very effective way to actively engage students is to share anonymous data with them regarding SEL competencies, and empower them to use that data to make recommendations to improve the school's SEL programs. LAUSD has done this by bringing together the Associated Student Body Presidents and sharing with them how to analyze their school site SEL data based on the School Experience Survey. Student leaders then shared that information with their student councils, which allowed them to then ask questions about what was going to be done about the data to improve SEL outcomes.

The information was also shared with the students via various media outlets including the school newspaper and bulletin announcements. This approach adds another dimension to SEL instruction by empowering students to have a voice in improving SEL competencies and outcomes within their school community, while learning in tandem how to assess these core competencies and objectives.

Resources for SEL Assessments

The field of SEL assessment is growing rapidly and the number of assessment tools is large and increasing:

  • CASEL (Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning):

    A useful resource for SEL research, policy, and assessments.

  • Panorama Education:

    A widely-used SEL assessment service. It includes surveys on a range of SEL-related topics and provides schools with an excellent user-friendly data-dashboard. Administrators also use Panorama to understand and develop teacher capacity to support every student socially and emotionally.

  • The Devereux Student Strengths Assessment:

    Provides a standardized, behavior rating scale measuring the social and emotional competencies of children in kindergarten through 12th grade. With the DESSA, parents, teachers, and out-of-school-time staff can assess a child's social and emotional skills and promote healthy outcomes.

  • The Social Skills Improvement System Rating Scales (SSIS):

    A set of rating scales for teachers and parents that address the need for an evidence-based, multi-tiered assessment and intervention system to help students develop, improve, and maintain important social skills. SSIS can be used early in the school year to facilitate the universal screening of students at risk for academic or social behavior difficulties, to help plan interventions for improving these behaviors, and to evaluate progress on targeted skills after intervention.

  • The Social-Emotional Assets and Resilience Scale (SEARS):

    Focusing on a child's strengths, the SEARS can be used with children and adolescents who exhibit a variety of clinical problems or who are at high risk for developing such problems. SEARS Includes separate assessment forms for children and for adolescents, as well as teacher report forms and parent report forms. The forms may be used for any combination of student, parent, and teacher assessment.


Chapter 9

Criteria for Finding a High-Quality SEL Program

One way to ensure quality SEL programming is to look for evidence-based programs supported by research and evaluations that document positive impacts on student behavior and/or academic performance. High quality, evidence-based programs should demonstrate effectiveness in at least one evaluation that includes a comparison group, and pre and post measurements. While homegrown programs with no research evidence may be just as effective - they are often a shot in the dark, so evidence-based programs are the best choice.

Programs that are not widely embraced and not implemented well cannot work.

In addition to being evidence-based, one of the most important ingredients to SEL effectiveness, is enthusiastic buy-in from school staff. Programs that are not widely embraced and not implemented well cannot work. Another important factor to consider is whether the SEL program offers ongoing training and implementation support. As CASEL adeptly points out, “From our experience, the quality of [SEL] program implementation is also a function of how prepared schools are when they adopt an SEL program, the extent to which all staff members are involved in that decision, and whether or not there is real commitment to training and implementation support.”

Resources to guide selection of effective programs and practices are becoming more common as SEL becomes a larger part of the education landscape. An easily accessible example is the CASEL Guide to Effective Social-Emotional Learning Programs. The guide offers both a Preschool and Elementary Edition and a Middle and High School Edition.

Tips for School Site SEL Implementation

Below are a few best practices I've found to be essential to successful school site SEL implementation:

No Need to Reinvent the Wheel: One helpful approach to rolling out an effective SEL program is to look at what other schools are already doing and build upon those programs and practices. This can help administrators introduce the skills and outcomes that SEL addresses to staff, which allows them to see the connections. Start small with some visible successes. Small changes can have big impacts. For example, greeting faculty and students by name and participating in Sandy Hook Promise's Start with Hello! week is a small investment which yields much greater outcomes in improving social connectedness and inclusion in your school community.

Coordinate School-Wide Events that Support SEL: Coordinating school-wide events, like Character Day, that support and advance the goals of SEL programming, can set the stage for making connections as well as help communicate that social-emotional learning is a priority and vital to the welfare of the entire school community.

Take Pause to Assess Effectiveness: Often the problem is not lack of SEL resources. The problem is that teachers and site administrators are overwhelmed and do not always have the time to reflect upon what they are doing and how it supports SEL implementation. Unfortunately, it sometimes takes a personal or academic crisis for educators and administrators to pause and reflect upon, “What else should we be doing and.... what does the research tell us?”

Create a SEL School Team: A strong suggestion would be to create a designated team focused on integrating SEL into the school day. Ensure this team represents a broad spectrum of the school community, potentially including: students, teachers, administrators, mental health professionals, and parents. Margaret Mead had it right:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” -Margaret Mead

Resources to Support SEL and School Culture

Here are some free resources that can be used to support your SEL program's success, while also bolstering school culture and climate:

Character Day: A day where students, families, and educators from around the world screen films to spark dialog around character education. Character Day can help improve social and school connectedness, while supporting character education and SEL programs.

Start with Hello Week: Sandy Hook Promise, founded and led by several family members whose loved ones were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, developed Start with Hello Week. Start with Hello! asks students, educators, parents, and other school community leaders to take steps in class, the lunchroom and/or on the bus to create a culture of inclusiveness and connectedness.

No One Eats Alone Day: A nationwide student-led lunchtime event that teaches everyone(including school administrators, teachers, and parents) how to make friends at lunch, often the most difficult part of the school day. Created and organized by students, No One Eats Alone Day takes place at schools in all 50 states.

Changing Minds Now: Changing Minds Now offers resources for educators, school staff, and caring adults to help children who have been exposed to traumatic stress heal and thrive.


Chapter 10

How to Fund SEL Programming

School districts typically fund social-emotional learning through general fund dollars that support Instruction and Professional Development as well as through Title I funding. Some districts use Special Services or Special Education dollars to fund SEL programs. Funding can come from multiple sources, ranging from district, state, and federal budgets and schools should also explore funding for specific populations such as LGBTQ, foster, immigrant, and homeless youth.

Resources for Funding of SEL and Suicide Prevention Programs

  • Federal grants: The Grants.gov System-to-System (S2S) Listservs, hosted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), are designed to support grantor agencies and applicants using a system-to-system interface to post funding opportunities and submit grant applications.

  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA):

    SAMHSA is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America's communities.

  • National Institutes of Health:

    NIH's central resource for grants and funding.

  • National Network to Eliminate Disparities in Behavioral Health:

    The NNED Funding Opportunities page is divided into governmental grant opportunities and foundation grant opportunities. The Grant Opportunities sections are organized by due date. The NNED also has a page with a list of national and local foundations focusing on behavioral health and disparities.


Chapter 11

Intervention Starts with Insights

Technology, Data, and the Future of Suicide Prevention

Schools are where students are, and as the stewards of their safety, schools need to have plans in place. Plans that help prevent suicidal thoughts and behaviors and that respond to the needs of suicidal children and youth. Our students are “digital natives” who have never known a time without digital devices. In school suicide prevention programs, we need to meet our students in the spaces where they seek information and communicate: and those spaces are created, more often than not, online. Thus, effective suicide prevention plans meet students where they are - on their devices- and account for how students may display warning signs of suicidal ideation and behavior in the digital classroom, just as they do in the traditional classroom.

Schools are where students are, and as the stewards of their safety, schools need to have plans in place.

Rapid advances in data science can provide us with helpful tools for suicide prevention, and the ability to dynamically assess suicide risk in quantitative data-driven ways. Everything from AI-powered technology to online schools surveys can be used to help identify students and point them towards the resources they need. Early identification of potential problems means early intervention -- and identification starts with actionable insights and data.

Currently, those actionable insights are being garnered through emerging new technologies that offer innovative approaches to the field of suicide prevention. For example, GoGuardian Beacon, created by the educational technology company GoGuardian, is one example of a suicide and self-harm prevention tool designed to help school counselors, administrators, and educators proactively identify at-risk students so that they can quickly get them the assistance they need.

In our digital era, at-risk students often show signs of suicide ideation through their browsing activity and online behaviors. If such behaviors occur regularly on school devices, such early warning signs could be a cry for help. GoGuardian Beacon is built to identify when a student accesses content or exhibits online behaviors related to self-harm or suicide on a school-issued device. Schools can then use the insights and data Beacon provides to complement their existing suicide prevention protocols, empowering the right people in their district with the right information, in the right way, to get students help as fast as possible. School staff and administrators can choose how they involve the school community site-by-site, including notifying parents directly.

Whether you are an educator, administrator, mental health clinician, or community leader, emerging technologies can be paired with suicide prevention strategies to create more secure and safeguarded systems that ensure students don't fall under the radar.

Tools and Standards Utilized by LAUSD

In my years at LAUSD, I've also found the following tools and surveys to be beneficial in aiding the district's SEL, mental health, and suicide prevention programs:

The School Experience Survey measures self reported data around core SEL competencies. It also measures school connectedness, which is a significant factor in upstreaming as well.

The California Healthy Kids Survey is an anonymous, confidential survey of school climate and safety, student wellness, and youth resiliency. It is administered to students at grades five, seven, nine, and eleven. It enables schools and communities to collect and analyze data regarding youth health risks and behaviors, school connectedness, school climate, protective factors, school violence, and suicidal behavior.

The Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS): YRBSS monitors six categories of health-related behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among young adults. At LAUSD, we used this data to provide targeted, tailored programs to help students in need.


Conclusion

Ultimately, upstreaming techniques like SEL are vital to effective suicide prevention in schools. Responding when disaster strikes “downstream,” as the old parable teaches us, is not enough. We need to equip students with the essential tools and resources to protect their physical and emotional well-being in the first place. Here, social-emotional learning policies and programs play a critical role.

SEL initiatives, when paired with technology, other “upstreaming” approaches, and suicide prevention programs, can make a measurable impact. It is my greatest hope as a longtime educator and advocate, that the skills gained through SEL programs continue to benefit our students beyond the K-12 grades, helping them to overcome challenges even farther "downstream”... in their future academic, career, and family lives.


About Dr. Lori Vollandt

Dr. Vollandt has been a lifelong educator, policy-informer and community leader. A fourth-generation native of Los Angeles, she holds a B.A. in Health Education from San Jose State and is a graduate of the Governor's Principal Leadership Institute at UCLA with a Master's in Education. Dr. Vollandt also earned a Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) at UCLA with a focus on social justice through Educational Leadership and Administration. Dr. Vollandt began her career at Marshall High School, where she taught for 13 years and wrote grants in excess of six million dollars to build a mental health clinic to serve the students and families of Marshall. She also served as the State Chair for “Do the Write Thing,” a violence prevention program.

For the past 14 years, Dr. Vollandt was the Coordinator of Health Education Programs for Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) where she administered programs to ensure the best health outcomes for students, including violence prevention, nutrition, mental health, HIV/AIDS prevention, as well as comprehensive sexual education. Dr. Vollandt is often called to inform government deci- sion-makers and has performed State as well as Congressional briefings. She has also served many years on the boards of Peace Over Violence, the Los Angeles Trust for Children's Health and The Liberty Crew: an organization dedicated to eradicating the opioid epidemic through school and community partnerships.

Upon retirement from LAUSD* in 2018, Dr. Vollandt co-founded Achieve Beyond the Binder, an educational consulting company that is focused on the implementation of Social-Emotional Learning programs and improving school culture and climate. Most recently, Dr. Vollandt was the architect of a Social-Emotional Learning program implemented in over 900 Los Angeles schools.

*Please note: The opinions expressed in this white paper are those of the author, Dr. Lori Vollandt, and do not reflect the opinions or positions of Los Angeles Unified School District.


Endnotes

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2013). Suicide among youth.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2017). QuickStats: Suicide Rates for Teens Aged 15-19 Years, by Sex – United States, 1975-2015. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 66, 816. DOI:

  3. CASEL. What is SEL?

  4. Stone, D.M., Holland, K.M., Bartholow, B., Crosby, A.E., Davis, S., and Wilkins, N. (2017). Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policies, Programs, and Practices. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  5. Wyman, P. A. (2014). Developmental Approach to Prevent Adolescent Suicides: Research Pathways to Effective Upstream Preventive Interventions. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 47(3 0 2), S251–S256.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide Risk and Protective Factors.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2008). Strategic direction for the prevention of suicidal behavior: Promoting individual, family, and community connectedness to prevent suicidal behavior.

  8. Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D. & Schellinger, K. B. (2011), The impact of enhancing students' social and emotional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82: 405–432.

  9. Bridge, J. A., Reynolds, B., McBee-Strayer, S. M., Sheftall, A. H., Ackerman, J., Stevens, J., ... Brent, D. A. (2015). Impulsive Aggression, Delay Discounting, and Adolescent Suicide Attempts: Effects of Current Psychotropic Medication Use and Family History of Suicidal Behavior. Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, 25(2), 114–123.

  10. Stone, D.M., Holland, K.M., Bartholow, B., Crosby, A.E., Davis, S., and Wilkins, N. (2017). Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policies, Programs, and Practices. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  11. Durlak, J. A., Weissberg, R. P., Dymnicki, A. B., Taylor, R. D. & Schellinger, K. B. (2011), The impact of enhancing students' social and emo- tional learning: A meta-analysis of school-based universal interventions. Child Development, 82: 405–432.

  12. Stone, D.M., Holland, K.M., Bartholow, B., Crosby, A.E., Davis, S., and Wilkins, N. (2017). Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policies, Programs, and Practices. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  13. Wyman, P. A. (2014). Developmental Approach to Prevent Adolescent Suicides: Research Pathways to Effective Upstream Preventive Interventions. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 47(3 0 2), S251–S256. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2014.05.039

  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide Risk and Protective Factors.

  15. Stone, D.M., Holland, K.M., Bartholow, B., Crosby, A.E., Davis, S., and Wilkins, N. (2017). Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policies, Programs, and Practices. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stone, D.M., Holland, K.M., Bartholow, B., Crosby, A.E., Davis, S., and Wilkins, N. (2017). Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policies, Pro- grams, and Practices. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  16. Stone, D.M., Holland, K.M., Bartholow, B., Crosby, A.E., Davis, S., and Wilkins, N. (2017). Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policies, Programs, and Practices. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  17. Stone, D.M., Holland, K.M., Bartholow, B., Crosby, A.E., Davis, S., and Wilkins, N. (2017). Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policies, Programs, and Practices. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  18. Stone, D.M., Holland, K.M., Bartholow, B., Crosby, A.E., Davis, S., and Wilkins, N. (2017). Preventing Suicide: A Technical Package of Policies, Programs, and Practices. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  19. Whitlock, J., Wyman, P.A., & Moore, S.R. (2014). Connectedness and suicide prevention in adolescents: Pathways and implications. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 44(3), 246-272

  20. Kataoka, S. H., Zhang, L., & Wells, K. B. (2002). Unmet need for mental health care among U.S. children: Variation by ethnicity and insurance status. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 159(9), 1548-1555.

  21. School Mental Health Services in the United States. (2006).

  22. Whitlock, J., Wyman, P.A., & Moore, S.R. (2014). Connectedness and suicide prevention in adolescents: Pathways and implications. Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, 44(3), 246-272

  23. Shasha, V. J., Ojakia, M., Lenoi, L., Lopez, J. (2017). K-12 Toolkit for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention.

  24. Jennings, P. A., Frank, J. L., Snowberg, K. E., Coccia, M. A., & Greenberg, M. T. (2013). Improving classroom learning environments by Culti- vating Awareness and Resilience in Education (CARE): Results of a randomized controlled trial. School Psychology Quarterly, 28(4), 374

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