Are Schools Prepared for Suicide Contagion Effects? An Analysis of School Psychologists’ Perceived Competency in Suicide Postvention Response Public Deposited

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  • March 21, 2019
  • O'Neill, John
    • Affiliation: School of Education, School Psychology Graduate Program
  • Suicide is a leading cause of death of school-aged youth, with adolescent and young adult populations considered to be most at risk for suicide clusters and contagion effects (CDC, 2015; Insel & Gould, 2008). Suicide clusters have been documented in school districts across the U.S., though the degree to which schools are prepared to provide postvention services in the wake of a suicide is presently unclear (Canady, 2016; Robinson et al., 2013; Stack, 2003). Due to the lack of evidenced-based postvention programs, school-based clinicians rely upon their clinical judgement to effectively and responsibly provide postvention services to a school community following a suicide. School psychologists are considered integral members of the crisis response teams that are charged with conducting this sensitive response effort, though the current literature is largely absent of works that address their beliefs about their knowledge, confidence, and preparedness to provide postvention services (Debski et al., 2007; Schmidt, 2016). For the present study, the Postvention Competency Survey was developed and administered to 111 school psychologists to ascertain their perceived knowledge and self-efficacy in suicide postvention and suicide contagion effects. In addition, school psychologists reported on their school districts’ approach to preparing for postvention response through training opportunities, the presence of postvention protocols, and the establishment of crisis teams. Regression analyses were also conducted to identify factors predictive of postvention competency. Descriptive results indicated that all school districts had established crisis teams, yet only half of the respondents endorsed that their district had a protocol to guide the response efforts. Nearly 70% of the sample indicated formal training in postvention, though over 50% reported that their district had not offered such training in the past four years. The majority of respondents endorsed less than moderate knowledge, preparedness, and confidence in suicide postvention, and even lower degrees of competency in suicide contagion effects. Regression analyses supported formal training as a significant predictor of both perceived knowledge and self-efficacy, while the presence of a postvention protocol was not significant for either outcome. Overall, results suggest that schools may benefit from improving their approach to preparing for student suicides, and particularly suicide contagion effects. Recommendations to enhance school psychologists’ postvention competence are offered, and directions for future research to expand upon this preliminary work are discussed.
Date of publication
Resource type
  • Evarrs, Sandra
  • Knotek, Steven
  • Tabori, Alex
  • Bledsoe, Betsy
  • Simeonsson, Rune
  • Doctor of Philosophy
Degree granting institution
  • University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Graduation year
  • 2018

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