The suicide of a student reverberates throughout a community. People feel shock and disbelief, as well as concern for the student’s family and friends. Adults want to be helpful to students but often have trouble themselves understanding how such a thing could happen. They may find themselves reminded of major losses in their own lives or suddenly concerned about what might happen to other students, especially when there have been other suicides in the recent past. People worry about saying too much or too little, about not having enough information, about saying the wrong thing. Though there is no perfect way to respond, there are some guidelines that can often make a positive difference in talking with young people.
Suicide is the worst of losses, especially when the victim is an adolescent. It's every parent's nightmare. And it's every principal's, too—not only for the horrific loss of the student, but for the censure that can often follow. Parents, community members, and even students may criticize the school for too much stress and pressure, too much homework and competition, and too little support. As the superintendent of schools in Palo Alto, Calif.—a district with a teen-suicide rate four times the national average—noted last fall, "any school that experiences a student suicide should brace for a tsunami of blame."