World Suicide Prevention Day Author Interview with the authors of Suicide in Schools

Terri A. Erbacher, PhD, is a school psychologist for the Delaware County Intermediate Unit and a clinical assistant professor at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. She has served on the executive boards of Philadelphia's chapter of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, Survivors of Suicide, and Pennsylvania's Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative. She was named Pennsylvania’s school psychologist of the year in 2011 in recognition of her clinical practice and expertise in crisis response, suicide risk assessment and prevention, and traumatic loss.

Jonathan Singer, PhD, LCSW, is an assistant professor at Temple University’s School of Social Work, where his clinical and research interests focus on family-based interventions for suicidal and cyberbullied youth and the role of technology in prevention and intervention. He served as an advisor for the City of Philadelphia's Youth Suicide Prevention Task Force, Non-homicide Child Death Review, and Pennsylvania Youth Suicide Prevention Initiative. He is the founder and host of the award-winning Social Work Podcast.

Scott Poland, EdD, is a professor and co-director of the Suicide and Violence Prevention Office at Nova Southeastern University in Florida. As a pioneer in school suicide prevention, he published his first book on the subject in 1989 and authored or coauthored every chapter on suicide for the National Association of School Psychologists’s Best Practices in School Psychology volumes. He previously served as the prevention division director of the American Association of Suicidology and has testified about the mental-health needs of children before the US Congress.

What is the one thing above all else practitioners treating clients contemplating suicide should know?
Most often, anyone you are talking to who reports thoughts of suicide is ambivalent about dying. That is, part of the person wants to live and part of the person wants to die. The part that wants to live might only be 5%, but it is a start. Your job is to increase the 5% to 95%.

What is the biggest challenge facing friends and family members of suicidal clients?
The greatest challenge facing friends and family of suicidal clients is the constant fear that their loved one will actually die by suicide. That why it is of utmost importance that we realize this is a community-wide problem that must be addressed. It is also important that families be provided with local resources regarding where to get help and support for their loved one.

What is the most prevalent misconception about suicide and self-harm?
That it cannot be prevented. People sometimes say "if someone wants to die, he or she will find a way." The research does not support this, as most people do not actually want to die. Further, there are successful, proven ways to prevent suicide, including means restriction and psychotherapy.

What inspired you to write about this topic?
One of the biggest gaps not only in graduate education, but also in professional development training, is the assessment, management, and treatment of suicidal individuals. Although there are outstanding texts that address various facets of suicide, few of them address youth, and none of them provide a practical, hands-on resource. We are clinicians, researchers, and educators who are responsible for training future clinicians and for identifying and helping these youth who are at risk for suicide. We know how important it is to provide accurate and useful information.

What is one thing you’d say to any person contemplating suicide?
I am concerned about you and want to help keep you safe. Together, let's come up with something you can do for the next 24 hours that will keep you alive.

What is your go-to online resource to recommend to suicidal clients?
There are several excellent resources for suicidal clients.
afsp.org: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention - great resources for people with lived experience as well as survivors of suicide loss.
save.org: Suicide Awareness, Voices of Education is a resource for folks in a suicidal crisis.
suicidepreventionlifeline.org: National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Phone and text crisis support.
livethroughthis.org: Live Through This is a collection of portraits and stories of suicide attempt survivors, as told by those survivors.
yspp.org: Youth Suicide Prevention Program - great resources for professionals and youth who are struggling with suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

What social media platform do you think best addresses suicide and self-harm?
Social media platforms are tools that can be used to address suicide and self-harm. Facebook has a collaboration with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to connect Facebook users who write status updates about suicide risk to the Lifeline chat. Twitter has a policy of reaching out to tweeters who make suicidal statements and make referrals (probably to the Lifeline). Instagram has a function where someone can report a photo as "self-harm." It is unclear whether or not Instagram will take action, and if so what.