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Dr. Marisa Marraccini is an assistant professor in the Carolina School of Education. As a school psychologist, her research focuses on developing guidelines to help students transition back to school and recover from suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

“My goal is really to develop a set of standards or a protocol that all schools can work from and all hospitals can work from, but I don’t necessarily want it to be uniform,” she said.

Marraccini said that there is a disconnect between what a student needs and what a school is able to provide.

“I’m really trying to bridge that gap so that both institutions who are working really hard to support kids can work together to support the kids. Each school is equipped to do a certain amount and there’s always something a school can do.”

One of the aspects that Marraccini studies is the contentedness between the school and its students. Kids who feel more connected to their school and to their teachers are more likely to report having suicidal behaviors.

“Obviously it doesn’t account for a lot of other factors,” she said. “But it points to the importance of something as simple as a teacher caring about a student or a teacher showing that they care about a student.”

School climate and how parents deal with it is an important part of Marraccini’s study.

“School climate is sort of like the heart of the school,” she said. “It’s the way everyone feels when they walk into a school and so it’s impossible, I think, to ignore school climate when we talk about kids coming back to schools after being hospitalized.”

A school might be a welcome place for a student following hospitalization, or it could feel unsafe if a student has had negative interactions there.

“I have been so lucky to get to meet with and interview some really resilient and insightful parents and kids who’ve been through this experience of hospitalization,” Marraccini said, “and they all have totally different experiences of course, but across all of them there are experiences that they found helpful and then there’s things that they wish that they knew.”

Mararaccini said parents should be aware that suicidal thoughts are relatively common among teenagers. Within a one-year time frame, one out of five high school students is going to report or seriously consider suicide.

“That’s a very sobering number. And despite it being common, it’s critically important that we take all of these thoughts very seriously.”