back arrow JOPERD Table of Contents

On the Front Line: The Role of Physical Educators in Preventing Student Suicide

Julie Whisenhunt, Duke Biber and Brent Heidorn

joperd cover

Educators play a vital role in identifying at-risk students and helping those students get the support and intervention they need. By merit of their close interaction with and observation of students, physical educators are well positioned to identify suicide warning signs and intervene to help save lives. Additionally, the role of physical educators in promoting suicide protective factors is equally noteworthy. Most physical educators receive little or no formal suicide prevention training in their teacher certification programs. Therefore, the purpose of this article is to provide general information and guidance for physical educators, specifically related to their role in suicide prevention. Naturally, an exhaustive approach to suicide prevention training is beyond the scope of this work; however, the premise of this article, which is written by a licensed professional counselor, a physical education teacher educator and a psychology of physical activity educator, is that physical educators can play a vital role in combatting child and adolescent suicide.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Vital Signs report published in 2018, suicide rates increased in nearly every state in the United States between 1999 and 2016. In that same time frame, half of U.S. states experienced a 30% or higher increase in suicide (Hedegaard et al., 2018). In 2013, 17% of high school students seriously considered suicide, 13.6% made a suicide plan, and 8% attempted suicide at least once (Kann et al., 2014). In both 2014 and 2017, suicide ranked as the second leading cause of death for people ages 10 to 24 years (Curtin & Heron, 2019; Heron, 2016). Suicide among adolescents remains a public health concern that requires systemic and deliberate intervention from all levels.

To read the rest of this article, click here to download a pdf.

Read the Full Cover Story