Carleton University’s Postvention Strategy
A student death within a school community is devasting to students, staff, faculty, and families. Carleton University recognizes that following the death of a student, our community can feel isolated and frustrated at the seeming lack of communication from the institution.
In the event of the death of a student, our top priority is to respect the wishes of the student’s family and provide support to those affected by the death. In all cases, we follow the family’s direction on how they would like to honour their loved one, including any communications.
The Carleton University Postvention Strategy has been developed to inform our community of the actions we take following a student death. We encourage our community members to read this strategy and learn more about postvention.
What is postvention?
Carleton University views postvention as support for our community following the death of a student, inspired by this relatively new concept in the field of mental health. Postvention often refers to suicide prevention activities that provide support for people affected by suicide (e.g., those grieving in the aftermath of a suicide). These activities are often crucial in helping to support and heal those affected after the loss or experience of a suicide, and in reducing the risk of further suicides and future crises.
The topic of suicide should always be approached with care and compassion. Whether we are engaging in dialogue, or talking to someone with lived and/or living experience, we want to be mindful that our language is not just empathetic and appropriate, but that we focus on reducing stigma and putting the person first.
Postvention Vs. Prevention
Having a postvention strategy is part of any holistic suicide prevention plan. Although it might seem counterintuitive to focus on postvention work, taking steps to outline how we care for our community following the death of a student encourages open dialogue and understanding of death including death by suicide. This postvention planning can, and does, include providing necessary mental health support, promoting healing among the community, and increasing education and training opportunities after an appropriate amount of time has passed.
Fundamentals of postvention strategies include:
- Preparation: ensuring there is a whole community approach to postvention
- Short-Term (24-48 hours following): actions taken in the initial few days following the death of a student, often involving conversations with the family to direct the approach we take
- Medium-Term (days and weeks following): actions taken in the few weeks following the death of a student, including the continuous offer of mental health support to those affected
- Long-Term (months following): actions taken in the months following, often involving an increase in training and education for students, faculty and staff
A postvention strategy can support the community in promoting healthy conversations on mental health and wellness, build a strong culture of wellness in our community, and support de-stigmatizing the need for support.
Stigma + Person-First Language
|INSTEAD OF THIS…
|… SAY THIS
|commit / committed suicide
|died by suicide / death by suicide / lost their life to suicide
|“Commit” implies suicide is a sin or crime, reinforcing the stigma that it’s a selfish act and personal choice
Using neutral phrasing like “died by suicide” helps strip away the shame/blame element
|successful / unsuccessful suicide
completed / faily suicide
|died by suicide / survived a suicide attempt / lived through a suicide attempt
fatal suicidal behaviour / non-fatal suicidal behaviour
fatal suicide attempt / non-fatal suicide attempt
|The notion of a “succesful” suicide frames this very tragic outcome as an achievement or something positive
A suicide attempt is either fatal or not
|Words like “epidemic” can spark panic, making suicide seem inevitable or more common than it is
By using purely quantitative, less emotionally charged terms like “rising”, we can avoid instilling a sense of doom or hopelessness
|<Name> is suicidal
|<Name> is facing suicide / is thinking of suicide / has suffered through suicidal thoughts / has experienced suicidal thoughts
|We don’t want to define someone by their experience with suicide; they are more than their suicidal thoughts
They’re a schizophrenic
The mentally ill
|he is facing suicide / thinking of suicide / experiencing suicidal thoughts
they have schizophrenia / are living with schizophrenia
people with mental illness
people addicted to <substance>, people with addiction
|Putting the condition before the person reduces someone’s identity to their diagnosis – people are not their illness; they have an illness.
People-first language shows respect for the individual, reinforcing the fact that their condition does not define them
*Adapted from Words Matter: Learning how to talk about suicide in a hopeful, respectful way has the power to save lives from Canadian Mental Health Association.