Establish and Follow Crisis Management Procedure
Crisis situations arise when students or other individuals affiliated with the campus community engage in dangerous behaviors that put themselves, their peers, and the campus community at risk. As recent headlines have shown, suicide has become one of the most highly publicized student behaviors that results in a crisis situation, prompting numerous campuses to establish and follow a crisis management procedure. But there are many other student behaviors that can have a negative effect on students’ safety, mental health, and general wellbeing. Riots, classroom misconduct, physical intimidation, computer mischief, drug and alcohol abuse, and campus crime are examples of other student behaviors that administrators need to respond to quickly and effectively to protect the safety of students and staff.
Regardless of the specific nature of the crisis, crisis situations can be profoundly disruptive to everyone on campus and can even extend to the surrounding community. When a crisis involves the larger campus community, campuses can focus their efforts on alleviating grief and anxiety and adjustment-related difficulties. However, the impact of a crisis may not always be short-term – crises can profoundly impact college and university students and staff for years following the incident. Therefore, colleges and universities should have specific protocols in place for all types of crises.
Crisis management protocols and procedures may be specific to a given event, such as an attempted or completed suicide, and can be either preventive or postvention in nature. Preventive crisis management strategies are established prior to onset of a crisis situation, with the underlying goal being to prevent a crisis from happening in the first place. In some cases, these intervention strategies may focus on isolating disruptive students or training faculty and staff on how to identify disruptive students or situations and ways to intervene appropriately.
Preventive crisis management strategies may need to be coupled with postvention activities, which focus on actively addressing the situation after a crisis has occurred. Postvention activities aim to minimize immediate and long-term consequences of the crisis. These may involve having a network of professionals in place to respond to a crisis once it has happened. These individuals can then immediately begin working on post-disaster activities, such as assisting students with grief and other emotional difficulties that may ensue as a result of the campus crisis.
In terms of responding to and preventing suicide, campuses should focus on developing preventative policies and systems that give faculty and other staff the tools they need to identify and take action to immediately respond to a student who expresses signs, symptoms, or behaviors that may be indicative of suicide. Careful consideration of the following elements may help campus administrators, counseling center staff, and other professionals to devise an effective suicide prevention protocol:
- Devising safety protocols for students who may be at risk. This will likely involve establishing mechanisms for identifying and responding to student in acute distress, addressing issues around voluntary or involuntary psychiatric hospitalizations, and documenting encounters between students and campus staff
- Developing an emergency contact notification protocol
- Developing a medical leave of absence and reentry protocol
- Disseminating protocols and educating gatekeepers
These preventive strategies need to be combined with postvention crisis management strategies in the unfortunate event that a student completes a suicide. These postvention activities may focus on identifying ways to responsibly report the student suicide to the media and the larger campus community. It will also involve ensuring that mental health supports and resources are made available to anyone on campus, including students, faculty, and staff, who are affected by the suicide.