September is National Suicide Prevention Month, and throughout the month, mental health advocates, prevention organizations, survivors, allies, and community members will unite to promote suicide prevention awareness. It’s a critical subject for educators nationwide.

Among children between the ages of 15 and 19, suicide is the second leading cause of death. Furthermore, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the leading cause of death for 14- and 15-year-olds.

School districts face an uphill battle in providing adequate mental health and safety support to their students. Too many school safety teams are short-staffed and overwhelmed—a dangerous combination as school violence is on the rise and student mental health is on the decline.

A safe school environment is crucial to healthy academic and social development. Student safety and well-being ripples throughout the entire school community, impacting factors ranging from staff retention to parent satisfaction. However, according to a survey conducted by Lightspeed Systems® and Safe and Sound Schools, only three out of five students have confidence in their school’s ability to handle mental health crises.

To help safety and student support staff provide the best protection to students, districts can leverage technology to focus limited, precious resources effectively. Below, find seven strategies where technology can help safety and mental health teams improve student safety.

1—Acknowledge students interact and engage in a digital world

Teachers and students rely on digital resources for enhanced learning and engagement. As interactions with digital environments increase, it is inevitable students will use their school-issued devices to do online searches, watch YouTube videos, and engage with one another across social media platforms, outside of their schoolwork.

Sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) scans and analyzes student online data across the internet for warning signs of student distress, including self-harm, violence, explicit content, and bullying. Potential risks and threats are then flagged for further review, while imminent threats are automatically escalated to emergency contacts identified by the district. Automatically sifting through an overwhelming amount of student-generated data for at-risk behavior and warning signs not only saves staff time but also extends their reach.

2—Leverage trained safety specialists for around-the-clock monitoring

In addition to sophisticated AI that enables visibility into student online behavior, best-in-class online monitoring solutions like Lightspeed Alert™ offer a human review component for further assessment of risks flagged by the AI.

Full-time, highly-trained safety specialists review each alert that is created by AI and the context that surrounds each alert such as recent web activity. Safety specialists immediately contact designated school and district personnel about high risks and imminent threats, regardless of when they occur, giving staff peace of mind that critical alerts outside of school hours won’t be missed.

3—Automatically notify on-campus administrators, counselors, or safety resources of threats

In instances of self-harm or school violence, time is of the essence. Automatically notifying on-site personnel like administrators, counselors, and safety resource officers is an essential step in protecting student safety.

Real-time scanning and notification processes ensure districts are alerted immediately when threats are identified, ensuring no time is lost in effectively responding.

4—Include crisis centers and/or local law officials in imminent threat notifications

Collaboration with outside agencies is often required to provide students and school communities with full protection and support. An ability to share relevant information with appropriate non-district personnel can be critical for timely emergency response, incident investigation, support plans, and reporting.

Early identification technology should facilitate information sharing, including alert escalation and notification; transparency, and collaborative communication between a district’s extended student safety response team, mental health providers, local law enforcement, and other contacts.

5—Focus resources with threat categories and levels

Schools must direct resources effectively to ensure urgent issues are addressed immediately. They can do this by focusing people-based resources where they are needed most and structuring alert responses according to bandwidth and availability.

Online student monitoring solutions leveraging AI assign each potential risk to a category, such as self-harm, violence, explicit content, or bullying. After trained human review team members evaluate alerts for validity, severity, and imminence, designated staff and/or law enforcement are notified immediately about imminent and high-risk threats, while lower-risk concerns are managed as part of a normal caseload.

6—Augment threat intelligence with context from other web searches

At-risk student identification technology contextualizes alerts to enable staff to quickly understand the situation for more effective response and intervention. When AI technology flags online activity as a potential threat to student safety, the flag is sent to designated staff along with a timestamped screenshot of that threat.

Any previous online activity is also captured, giving designated staff a contextual timeline surrounding the alert which helps to establish the student’s intent and the information needed to assess severity level and imminence for quick decision-making.

7—Integrate technologies for a more comprehensive, connected view

Important information pertaining to student safety and well-being comes from multiple sources and resides in many different systems. With the countless physical and online interactions between students and school staff in today’s school environment, it can be difficult to capture a comprehensive picture of an individual student’s well-being and any associated behaviors that might signal distress.

For comprehensive protection, forward-thinking districts use integrated technologies to ensure students are safe online and offline. By empowering mental health and safety personnel with technology that increases visibility into online student activity, districts can provide greater student safety coverage and support using their existing staff.

Conclusion

By implementing the strategies above, district counselors, student services directors and safety leaders prioritize student safety and mental health resources, drive earlier, more effective interventions and support, and create a more responsive school environment.

Of course, in a people-first field like mental health where relationships are essential to success, technology alone is never the answer. However, with sophisticated AI tools and the support of 24/7/365 human review of flagged issues, technology enables qualified staff to identify struggling students earlier and provide them with better support.

Next Steps

Download the complete 7 Strategies ebook to get a roadmap for improving student safety with technology. You’ll also get practical tips, insights into other districts’ experiences, and their results.