Teachers: How to Recognize Signs and Symptoms of Suicide in the Classroom


2013 Kansas Youth SuicidePrevention Statewide Summit Handouts: Liz McGinnis

The signs and symptoms of depression and suicidal behavior in adolescents are often observable behaviors first noticed by school personnel. The following lists common changes in classroom behavior, which may reflect serious depression and/or suicidal behavior.

–ABRUPT CHANGES IN ATTENDANCE: Remain alert to excessive absenteeism in a student with a good attendance record, particularly when the change is sudden.

–DWINDLING ACADEMIC PERFORMANCE: Question any unexpected and sudden decreases in school performance. Inability to concentrate is frequently found in depressed adolescents, leading to poor school performance.

— SUDDEN FAILURE TO COMPLETE ASSIGNMENTS:This may be due to a variety of factors. However, this is often seen in depressed and suicidal youngsters.

–LACK OF INTEREST IN ACTIVITIES AND SURROUNDINGS: It is difficult to maintain surveillance over so many adolescents. However, one of the first signs of a potentially suicidal adolescent is general withdrawal, disengagement and apathy.

–CHANGED RELATIONSHIPS WITH FRIENDS AND CLASSMATES: Additional evidence of personal despair may be abrupt changes in friendships and social relationships.

–INCREASED IRRITABILITY, MOODINESS OR AGGRESSIVENESS: Depressed, stressed and potentially suicidal individuals demonstrate wide mood swings and unexpected displays of emotion. Try to stay alert to times when a student’s reactions seem excessive.

–WITHDRAWAL AND DISPLAYS OF SADNESS: Teachers sometimes give up on chronic, non-participating students who do not cause problems in the classroom. Be sure that these students are, in fact, non-participants and not potentially suicidal.

–DEATH AND SUICIDAL THEMES EVIDENT IN READING SELECTIONS AND WRITTEN ESSAYS: The selection of material centering on ideas about death or dying, the uselessness or worthlessness of life, or matters relating to persons who have committed suicide should be viewed as warning signs for teachers – particularly if this occurs on more than one occasion.