Youth Suicide
The School's Role in Prevention and Response

Wanda Y. Johnson
Bloomington, Indiana: Phi Delta Kappa Educational Foundation, 1999
77 pages    ISBN: 0-87367-812-5

                                             Maureen Connolly,  Elmhurst College,IL
ver the past thirty-five years the suicide rate for young 
males has increased 300%, for young females 230%.  Suicide is the third 
leading killer of young people today.  Statistics such as these may be 
startling because our future is seen in our youth.

Wanda Johnson considers the issues surrounding suicide in her book Youth 
Suicide but emphasizes the role of prevention.  Likewise, this emphasis 
should be considered by both secondary and middle schools especially in 
light of Kelson v. The City of Springfield, 1985.  In this case, the 
court ruled that the school can be held liable if the school does not 
have an adequate suicide prevention program.

Johnson lists the at-risk indicators as well as the myths of teen suicide.  
Of particular concern to Johnson are gay youth.  Regardless of personal 
moral stance, teachers should be aware that this group is two to three 
times more likely to attempt suicide.  Johnson provides an entire chapter 
devoted to keeping gay youth safe in school environments. 

Even though suicide prevention programs for all at-risk youth sounds good 
on paper, opposition exists for the development of such programs.  
Johnson cites financial and political obstacles as well as the two basic 
suicide perspectives: mental health and stress.

Schools, which are able to overcome these obstacles, will probably develop 
one or more of several programs described by Johnson.  Most of these 
require appropriate training for successful implementation.  In addition, 
schools should be prepared for handling the aftermath of an individual or 
cluster suicide.  Crisis teams and crisis plans should be in place BEFORE 
a tragedy exists.

Johnson's Youth Suicide is a small book about a heavy issue.  Hopefully, 
it provokes serious thinking among educators.