Regional Schools Work to Prevent Suicide

January 26, 2018

Guidance counselors and school social workers are on the front line when it comes to helping troubled students, more and more of whom are presenting with mental health issues. That’s why about 80 participants attended a Putnam | Northern Westchester BOCES workshop on suicide prevention earlier this month to learn how to use a screening tool to identify at-risk students before it is too late.
The Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) is widely recognized as a gold-standard suicide risk-screening tool and has been adopted by schools throughout the country and is also used all over the world. Currently, for example, every school in Tenessee has received training on the C-SSRS, as has every teacher in Israel. Since its implementation, C-SSRS has helped reduce the suicide rates by 65 percent over the first 10 months in the nation’s largest provider of outpatient community behavioral health care.

“It does such a good job for screening for suicide risk that it is mandated for drug trials,” said Adam Lesser, LCSW, deputy director of The Columbia Lighthouse Project, who conducted the BOCES training. The Columbia Lighthouse Project is tasked with disseminating the Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale. “As a result, we can offer it to schools for free.”

The workshop was offered by the Guidance and Child Study Center at BOCES. Workshop attendees found the training extremely useful. “We’ve had suicide trainings before but have never been given a tool like this,” said Jennifer Ramos, a social worker at Sleepy Hollow Middle School. “This will allow us to have better data on each student. I think it’s very valuable.”

The tool can be used for students as young as five years old, and there is also a pediatric and cognitively impaired version. Lesser said the tool also has enormous value in screening people who are not suicide risks. “It is very important that we save emergency room referrals for when we have a sense that it is high risk,” he said, explaining that a student who has been through an ER experience once is less likely to ask for help again, when it might be more necessary. “It also helps save money by keeping some people out of the emergency room,” he said.

Lesser also outlined a safety plan that can be implemented for at-risk students. 

“The issue of mental illness in society at large, but particularly among our youth, is one that needs to be recognized and addressed,” said North Salem Guidance Chairperson Grace Carnevali,  who attended the workshop. “The conference gave wonderful suggestions not only on how to use this very valuable tool but also very good information on what to do with the results.”

Brewster High School Social Worker Henrietta Lodge,  who is also a member of the Putnam County Suicide Task Force, said she was particularly interested in the discussion of the safety plan, “Since most students return to school and class after the crisis.”
The safety plan is a written document that a student/client creates with the counselor upon return to school, and includes five steps identifying individual warning signs, and coping strategies that individuals can use. Brewster High School has used the C-SSRS in its crisis assessments for several years.
“Several members of Brewster Central School District attended the workshop and we plan to explore ways to promote the use of C-SSRS and website handouts in our future trainings for non-clinical staff, she said.
The tool can be downloaded for free at