Suicide Prevention Among School-aged Youth

Hasan Davis

As we all know September is back to school month and whether students are returning to school, learning remotely or a combination of both, it is important to pay special attention to their mental health needs. In addition to the day to day stress felt by youth and young adults (YYAs) due to current events, they may have feelings of isolation due to lack of social involvement. YYAs today are faced with a multitude of factors that can influence their mental health. The sudden unexpected changes in the world around them can cause stress, anxiety or cause current mental health issues to become exacerbated. With this in mind it is important to point out that suicide rates in Vermont are higher than the national average with rates similar to other rural areas.

Recently at the Vermont Suicide Prevention Symposium, Hasan Davis gave a talk on the importance of social emotional learning and prosocial engagement of YYAs. The overarching premise of his talk was that all young people have a voice that needs to be heard and they need to be given an opportunity to safely explore that voice. It is important for those working with youth to engage and foster social emotional learning and prosocial engagement. He suggested that it is time to start thinking differently about engaging with students. 

Social emotional learning helps YYAs make sense of their world by giving them a skillset to explore emotions and relationships successfully. These tools often give YYAs the “courage to resist and persist in the face of diversity”.

The following are examples of social emotional learning that Hassan discussed: 

  • Self and other awareness – understanding that there is a difference between thinking feeling and acting, understanding that actions have an effect on others’ feelings 
  • Mood management – constructively being able to handle one’s impulses, feelings and anger. 
  • Self-motivation – being able persevere towards goals optimistically even when setbacks arise.   
  • Empathy – ability to “put yourself in someone else’s shoes”, being able to show you care. 
  • Management of relationships – being able to resolve conflict, collaboration, cooperation. 

It is important to connect YYAs to positive prosocial engagement. Examples of prosocial engagement include: allowing for the expression through movement, words and other nonverbal creative activities; “encouraging supported engagement” of youth and families; and integrating “community based, family focused, child focused and trauma informed” interventions. 

Those working with YYAs should understand that those who have deep emotional connections have more success when dealing with trauma. Experiencing trauma during developmental stages in life can cause emotional setbacks for YYAs. This can cause them to lose pace with their peers. The system can fail YYAs who happen to experience these setbacks and find themselves “outside of the norm”. For this reason, it is essential when working with youth to consider how you check in with them and offer support. Consider having point people who are specifically tasked with checking in, so they offer a consistent and steady source of connection.  

Kurt Michael

There has been much progress made with regard to suicide prevention is schools. However, there is still room for growth through new programs and expanding/updating existing programs. At the symposium Kurt Michael, Ph.D. explored what schools can do to create suicide prevention programs and spoke of current programs that schools and agencies working with YYAs can adopt.

Any program that is integrated by schools or organizations working with YYAs should work to provide the following to those at risk: 

  • Follow up with those in crisis and those who are suicidal 
  • Create case coordination across systems to better inform those working with the student and provide seamless care 
  • Maintain or improve the education status of the student 
  • Focus on long term plans and options as student moves away from acute crisis 

Additionally, the following steps should be included in any program to help prevent YYA suicide attempts. It is important to raise the issue that you are concerned about suicide and evaluate the key symptoms and drivers they are experiencing. Be sure to attempt to reduce the access to lethal means. If possible, get help from supportive persons in the lives of the YYA and include them in the safety/coping plan. Once a plan is in place it should be well documented and include roles and timeframes. Finally, follow up should be completed within 24 hours or the next school day. This follow up should be part of ongoing evaluation.  

Current Programs 

Counseling on Access to Lethal Means (CALM)

Given the large proportion of gun ownership and access in Vermont, the CALM program is important to help reduce the access to lethal means (firearms, medications, etc.). The program assesses suicide risk and then works to reduce access to lethal means. Through work with the individual at risk, a plan will be put into place. This plan will include a timetable and roles for all parties involved. 

Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS)

Offers a flexible framework that is adaptable and can be used in schools. The program allows the individual at risk and the clinician to work together to discover suicide risk and then use that information to create a treatment plan. This allows for open dialogue and collaboration between all involved in treatment. The program uses empathy and addresses suicidality without judgement. Learn about CAMS here

Umatter®  Trainings

Umatter® For Schools

A national best practice suicide prevention training program offered by the Center for Health and Learning and created for Vermont middle and high schools to meet the requirements of Vermont state law. Delivered to school staff, participants learn Gatekeeper skills, are trained to deliver awareness trainings, develop prevention protocols, and implement the Lifelines curriculum. Registration Opening Soon! Check back to our Events page HERE

Umatter® For Youth and Young Adults – Now Virtual!

A youth leadership and engagement initiative. Core content and skills development includes: changing mindset, assessing personal strengths, building resiliency and strategies to cope with stress, self-care, recognizing signs of distress in self and others, how to reach out for help, and how to help a friend.  If your school is interested in participating in the Umatter for Youth and Young Adults 2020-21 Program Year, contact

Umatter® Trainer of Trainers – Now Virtual!

For community members, health care, and school professionals who what to raise awareness about suicide prevention.  You will be prepared to implement a Umatter® Suicide Awareness Workshop. Coming in 2021.

HELP Resources for Youth and Young Adults

When discussing help seeking and suicidality with youth and young adults, it is important to include text and chat support that is available. Below are some HELP Resources:

Vermont Crisis Text Line – Text VT to 741-741

The Crisis Text Line offers free access to discuss any type of crisis. Live trained counselors will receive and respond to the text. The counselors will work with individuals reaching out until they are “calm cool and have a positive plan for next steps”. The text line is available 24 hours a day.

The Trevor Project

The Trevor Project offers resources and support for LGBTQ youth. The lifeline is available 24 hours a day and provides a space for youth in crisis, those feeling suicidal and those looking for a judgement free space to talk. They also offer a text and chat option which is also available 24 hours a day. 

Text START TO 678-678 to connect. 

TrevorLifeline – 1-966-488-7386

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Offers both a webchat and call option. Those reaching out will be connected with a counselor for emotional support and other services. Chat and call are available 24 hours a day. 

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

For the chat link click here:

Vermont Mental Health Agency Crisis Line Numbers by Region

Pathways VT Support Line

888-VT-TALKS (888-604-6412)  – Open 24/7 for calls or texts.  Confidential.  Open only to Vermonters.

LGBT National Youth Talkline

1-800-246-PRIDE (7743) —

Trans Lifeline’s Peer Support Hotline


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