Saitama tries to spot suicidal signs

by Hiroko Nakata

Staff Writer

To curb student suicides, the Saitama city board of education has drawn up a manual to help schoolteachers recognize the warning signs.

The manual, which runs more than 20 pages, breaks down the signs of potential suicide into three increasingly serious levels, based on advice from psychiatrists and psychologists. It also instructs teachers in how to deal with students who need help, the board of education said Thursday.

“I hope the manual will raise teachers’ awareness and help schools to prepare possible measures to avoid suicides,” said Kenji Ogata, who is in charge of school counseling issues for the board, noting a trial of the manual that began in September helped teachers intervene in dozens of potential suicides.

Under to the manual, the warning signs for the least serious level include increasing truancy or lateness, a gloomy facial expression and withdrawal from classmates during recess.

At the next level, signs to look for include self-harm, such as cuts on the wrist. Students in this stage often have insomnia, little appetite and noticeable weight loss.

The manual advises teachers that students showing these signs be referred to school counselors or medical clinics.

At the most serious level, students at risk might make specific plans to commit suicide, write a will or memo about suicide, or speak to or send emails to friends about their plans.

The manual advises teachers who note serious signs to confirm if the students are safe and let their parents know about the potential risk. The Saitama board sent the manual to all local elementary and junior high schools in September on a trial basis.

By the end of December, there had been 85 cases in the second and third levels reported, Ogata said.