In the wake of the deaths of two survivors of the Parkland shooting and the father of a child killed at Sandy Hook, the American Association of Suicidology is working to connect high schools and survivors with professional help.
News this week that two survivors of last year’s Parkland shootings, as well as the father of a child killed in the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school, had died by suicide prompted at least one association to take action.
The American Association of Suicidology is reaching out to schools, stakeholders, and families to help connect them with its members, who include professional counselors, crisis centers, and survivors.
“We get a lot of calls on what do we do after a suicide,” said Colleen Creighton, executive director of AAS. “How do we ensure one individual suicide does not cause contagion?”
AAS defines contagion as “the process by which one or more suicides increase the risk of suicidal behavior in others.” When media coverage is abundant, as it is in these cases, contagion is a concern. That is one of the reasons AAS offered schools assistance.
“We’ve had a lot of schools reach out and say, ‘What do we do now?’” Creighton said. “There are a lot of questions: What is the impact of this? What is it that makes contagion set in a community?”
To help those contacting them, AAS is matching them with local providers. “We rely a lot on our partners and our members,” Creighton said. “One of the things we have is a network of clinicians and social workers, school psychologists—all those groups that are available to consult with a school district or anyone involved.”
Creighton noted that AAS often does this type of coordination. “A great example was a restaurant association. They reached out to us because they’d had a couple of suicides [within their community]. They said, ‘We are concerned, and we need some help,’” Creighton said. “We were able to connect them with someone who was able to go onsite and do a training for that community.”
In the current situation, AAS hopes the help it offers can create long-term partnerships for schools. “That’s the problem that happens with any of these cases; the immediate attention goes to the community, and then you forget,” she said. “These kids live with this trauma their entire lives. We need to get them the help not just right now, but ongoing.”
While the Parkland community has been deluged with advocates wanting to assist following these recent suicides, AAS, through its outreach, wants to make sure other schools nationwide receive help too. “It is the smaller school systems that aren’t getting the attention and are worried,” Creighton said. “Our members are based in their states. We say, ‘You can work with them.’”