Suicide in Schools: A Practitioner’s Guide to Multi-Level Prevention, Assessment, Intervention and Postvention, by Terri Erbacher, Jonathan Singer, and Scott Poland, Routledge: New York, 2015, 248 pages, ISBN: 978-0-415-85703-1, $44.95.
“Many of us working in schools are terrified of not doing all the right things if suicidal students present themselves in our office or classroom,” write Terri Erbacher, Jonathan Singer, and Scott Poland in the book Suicide in Schools: A Practitioner’s Guide to Multi-Level Prevention, Assessment, Intervention and Postvention (2015, p. 2). This book evidences the authors’ attempt to confront that fear through the provision of practical, evidence-based strategies to prevent youth suicide “where our youth spend the majority of their day—at school” (p. 4). Taking the view of the school as a system, the authors provide information useful to all personnel working in our schools—from the janitor serving as gatekeeper needing to know the warning signs of suicide; to the school administrator developing district wide crisis policies; to the school social worker assessing risk, intervening in a crisis, or assisting in the aftermath.
The book is comprehensive in breadth and depth on the topic of school system response to youth suicide. The reader learns about crisis response planning, liability, prevention, risk assessment, intervention, postvention, bereavement, and caring for the caregiver. Within each of these topics, the authors emphasize utility above all else.
Directed primarily at practitioners, the text includes a wealth of immediately applicable information, such as assessment tools, how to form crisis teams, and what to do in the first 24 hours after a student suicide. With this goal of usefulness in mind, the authors provide links to additional practical resources outside of the book to build school system and practitioner competency. For example, links to online podcasts demonstrate the chronological assessment of suicide risk, and other resources help districts develop response plans.
The comprehensive case study provided at the end of the book is another useful tool integrating the information provided throughout the text. This case study helps the reader see how to develop a safety plan from a risk assessment, how to document assessment and intervention, and how to evaluate services.
A particularly informative chapter explores liability concerns related to assessment and intervention with youth around suicide. The authors provide a useful synopsis of important legal decisions that guide practice decisions. For example, gone are the utility of no-harm contracts that have not withstood legal challenges and empirical testing. Important are practices that quickly involve informing guardians of any assessment of risk of suicide, regardless of whether the assessment resulted in a lower or higher risk.
School mental health providers will find this book invaluable in the planning process aimed at ensuring that their school districts are following best practices in the field in the areas of prevention, intervention, and postvention. The book also serves as a quick reference guide for practitioners should a crisis occur.
Finally, the book is important for the student interested in understanding response to the crisis of youth suicide on a systems level, as well as developing knowledge and skills to carry out screening, assessment, and intervention.
Reviewed by Michaela Rinkel, MSW, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Hawai’i Pacific University, Honolulu, HI.