Postvention at NC State
Postvention at NC State is the process of providing psychological support, crisis intervention and other forms of assistance to those directly affected by a student death, critical injury or other crisis situation.
NC State’s evidence-based approach is informed by national best practices and research, including guidance from the Higher Education Mental Health Alliance. The university’s postvention efforts aim to provide support to those affected by crisis and help the community return to normal routine to the greatest extent possible as soon as is feasible.
Postvention involves a series of planned interventions with those in the university community affected by a suicide or other death with the goals of:
- facilitating the grieving or adjustment process;
- stabilizing the environment;
- reducing the risk of negative behaviors; and
- limiting the risk of further suicides through contagion when the death is by suicide.
Any student’s death is a tragedy. When a death occurs in the community, for any reason, the postvention team is activated and a comprehensive set of steps is put into motion. An important priority is identifying those who may be most impacted following a crisis event, in particular a death. The postvention team works with campus partners to identify and provide needed support to affected groups and individuals given the situation, which can include the following.
- Siblings, friends, close classmates and coworkers.
- Accidental and/or intentional first responders or individuals who discovered the deceased person or were involved with providing aid.
- People who witnessed the event or its aftermath.
- People who knew the deceased person or have dealt with other campus tragedies.
- Faculty and academic support staff/faculty who knew the deceased person or may have had a close relationship with individual(s).
- Students in the same residence hall or off campus living area, in the same academic department, and/or in the same club/student activity/team.
Suicide contagion is a significant concern within a college community. Simply put, it’s the scientific concept that after one person dies by suicide, others in the community may be at a higher risk for suicide.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “Suicide contagion is the exposure to suicide or suicidal behaviors within one’s family, one’s peer group, or through media reports of suicide and can result in an increase in suicide and suicidal behaviors. Direct and indirect exposure to suicidal behavior has been shown to precede an increase in suicidal behavior in persons at risk for suicide, especially in adolescents and young adults.”
How, when and with whom the university communicates about a student death, especially a suicide, is a sensitive, challenging and important series of decisions that include legal and medical considerations and takes into account family members’ wishes. At NC State, we value openness and transparency. Our priorities, however, are to make decisions that provide the absolute best support for those directly affected and reduce the likelihood of suicide contagion.
Postvention Communications Overview
The type of information shared among the campus community following a student death depends on the unique situation, what is known, privacy laws and the desires of the affected family. Based on the specific situation, the university often provides different levels of information to different sub-groups within the community. Typical communications include but are not limited to the following.
- Family members are notified by police. The university follows up directly with family members.
- University administration and student affairs staff are notified in preparation of providing response and resources to affected campus individuals and groups.
- Whenever possible, roommates, friends, and other subgroups of which the individual might be a member (e.g., athletic team, ROTC, Greek affiliation) are quickly notified and provided resources. This can include dozens or even hundreds of individuals.
- College deans and associate deans are notified and instructed on how to respond.
- The individual’s faculty are notified and provided resources about how to respond.
- Faculty and staff senate leaders and student government leaders are notified.
- In appropriate circumstances, communications might be sent to all members of a residence hall, fraternity or other community.
- Face-to-face counseling/meetings with students may also take place in the residence hall or on the specific living location where the deceased student lived, or with the deceased student’s teammates or other members of student organizations to which the student belonged.
- In select situations, a notification is sent to the larger campus community.
The university utilizes research-based best practices related to postvention strategies, including communications. NC State goes to great lengths to directly inform and provide resources to support those campus members directly impacted by the tragedy of a student death. Where deemed appropriate and significantly beneficial for the community, within legal and medical parameters, and taking into consideration family wishes, broad campus messages may be distributed. However, efforts to reduce the likelihood of suicide contagion take priority related to communications decisions.
For specifics about the postvention process at NC State, including additional resources and information, visit the postvention materials website.