School or Community Memorials for Students Who Have Died by Suicide
Memorials can be a sensitive topic, especially after a death due to suicide. Students and families may wish to have a memorial of their loved one placed at the school. School districts should have a policy regarding memorials. The school should be respectful of the family and close friends of the deceased, while continuing to create an environment conducive for learning. This website provides a list of some of the information available to schools to help prepare a policy on memorials.
Adolescents are especially vulnerable to the risk of suicide contagion. It is important to remember the student in a way that doesn't inadvertently glamorize or romanticize either the student or the death.
Suggestions for Memorials in Schools
- Do include in school board policy a statement about memorials for students who died by suicide that is consistent with research.
- Do allow students and staff to express their grief in a tangible way, possibly by making donations or participating in an awareness or fundraising event for a crisis line or for suicide prevention resources.
- Don't allow memorials that may upset students or are constant reminders, i.e. planting trees, erecting plaques in the school or community, flying flags at half-staff, etc.
- Don't name a scholarship after a youth who has died by suicide. Instead, make contributions to a general scholarship fund if there is one available.
- Do encourage help-seeking behavior and promote resources like the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK, and other local resources.
- Don't allow assemblies on suicide. This is not an effective approach to suicide prevention and may in fact even be risky, because students who are suffering from depression or other mental health issues may hear the messaging very differently from the way it is intended (After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools, AFSP & SPRC 2011).
For more information:
- After a Suicide: Recommendations for Religious Services and Other Public Memorial Observances published by the Suicide Prevention Resource Center
- "Safe and Effective Messaging for Suicide Prevention" from the Suicide Prevention Resource Center
- After a Suicide: A Toolkit for Schools from the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention & the Suicide Prevention Resource Center