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About these guidelines

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The guidelines are designed to assist schools when they respond to a student’s suspected traumatic death or possible suicide. This response is known as suicide postvention.

The guidelines have been developed collaboratively by:

  • the Department for Education
  • Catholic Education South Australia
  • Association of Independent Schools of South Australia.

Aboriginal people have been consulted in the development of this work. Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service, the Women’s and Children’s Health Network and headspace Schools have also contributed.

Supporting school communities

The guidelines support communities in grief. They help schools recognise and respond to the risk of suicide contagion. They work with existing structures and rely on agreements between different groups. The guidelines support critical incident management processes and complement the school’s efforts to promote mental health.

Sensitive information about the student’s death is shared between government and non-government schools, the Department for Child Protection, mental health services and families.

Protecting students

A student’s traumatic death is, in itself, a difficult event for a school and its community. It can lead to an increased risk of suicide in:

  • other vulnerable students
  • members of the student’s family.

International research has identified the phenomenon of suicide contagion. This is when a vulnerable person who is exposed to suicide is more likely to see suicide as an option. For this reason, suicide postvention is a rare but essential part of how schools can prevent suicide.

The principles of postvention are to:

  • prevent more suicidal behaviour
  • support students with their grief and distress
  • identify people at risk
  • decrease contagion by supporting people at risk
  • manage the school’s responses
  • not glamorise, stigmatise or sensationalise traumatic death.

All schools identify, refer and support vulnerable students. This is part of standard health-promoting practice. After a student dies, this work increases. It is then a focus of a school’s long term postvention work.

Sharing information

People will share what they hear at school. As education staff, we can guide them through this and talk about privacy and protecting each other. Although we can’t always stop information from spreading, we can shape the way it is received and heard.

Balancing respect with your duty of care

These guidelines outline the issues you will manage as you balance:

  • respect for the family’s wishes
  • your duty of care.

When you stay connected with the bereaved family you can stay aware of their wishes. Over time, this will give you a chance to share how your school aims to support other students.