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Why a Postvention Plan is Integral to Schools and Institutions

August 15, 2016

The occurrence of a student’s suicide in a college community requires a coordinated response on multiple levels and pooling diverse resources across campus. JED recommends a postvention protocol which puts in place resources and interventions that provide emotional support, crisis intervention and assistance to those affected by a suicide death on campus. Planning a response to the occurrence of such a tragedy is an integral part of implementing a comprehensive mental health and suicide prevention program. In the immediate aftermath of a suicide death on campus, when emotions are strained, confusion is common, and grief is overwhelming, a comprehensive postvention protocol provides a rapid, organized response when the college community is most receptive to and in need of support and comfort.

A good postvention plan provides the framework for campus-wide communication and coordination aimed at maintaining community stability and assuring effective outreach during a crisis. If the college community maintains a sense of security, it is more likely to avoid destabilizing reverberations at the time of tragedy. It is also important to emphasize that a comprehensive postvention plan actually has the potential to positively impact preventive measures.

JED supports a postvention protocol that meets the emotional needs of the grieving community, brings stability to the college community in the aftermath of a student’s suicide and reduces the likelihood of a “contagion effect.” It is important for a postvention plan to use sensitivity when determining how the facts about a student’s suicide will be shared with the college community and to monitor social media to gauge the college community’s response to a suicide death on campus. A good postvention plan also underscores the importance of assessing the spiritual needs of the community, including decisions around memorial events, and identifies ways the family of the deceased student might be involved. And finally, it is important that the postvention policy includes opportunities for ongoing evaluation and modification of the college’s assessment, prevention and intervention policies as needed.

Though the impact of a student’s suicide death cannot be predicted and the response of a campus community can vary widely, JED encourages colleges to develop postvention guidelines and resources that facilitate sensitive and coordinated interventions at a time of profound sadness.

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The World Health Organization defines “mental health” “as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.” In using this definition, S2i recognizes that some mental health challenges reflect brain diseases that, like physical diseases, require appropriate stigma-free and patient-centered care and include both mental health and substance use disorders. Other mental health challenges stem from social conditions and marginalization and require different forms of interventions.