September 10 is World Suicide Prevention day, a day devoted to mobilizing global action for suicide prevention through awareness-building and research efforts. Held annually, World Suicide Prevention day serves as a reminder of the lives lost to suicide each year and acts as a motivating force to encourage widespread prevention efforts.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth, resulting in about 4,600 lives lost each year. Educators and trusted community members play a critical role in identifying at-risk youth and helping to increase factors that promote resiliency in these students.

A new school year allows you to reassess the wellbeing of your students. The time away for the summer allows educators and other staff to view students through a new lens. Changes that might have seemed minute in day-to-day interactions can become easier to identify. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) “Preventing Suicide: A Toolkit for High Schools,” some risk factors to look for include:

  • Hopelessness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Social alienation and isolation, lack of belonging
  • Low stress and frustration tolerance
  • Impulsivity, risk taking or recklessness
  • Poor problem-solving or coping skills

Protective factors are personal or environmental characteristics that reduce the probability of suicide. It is important that school staff work to enhance protective factors, as they are an essential element of suicide prevention efforts. Protective factors help students develop the capacity to cope positively with the effects of risk factors. This is essentially known as building “resilience.”

To promote the development of protective factors on the individual level, schools should implement programs that help students develop more comprehensive problem-solving skills, non-violent conflict resolution, and emotional regulation.

The SOS SIgns of Suicide Prevention Programs, provided by the nonprofit, Screening for Mental Health, are designed to help youth navigate the often difficult path of adolescence. The evidence-based programming focuses on prevention through education by teaching students to identify symptoms of depression, suicidality, and self-injury in themselves and their peers. Using a simple and easy-to-remember acronym, ACT® (Acknowledge, Care, Tell), students are taught certain steps to take if they encounter a situation that requires help from a trusted adult.

Through the SOS Programs, students are taught that suicide is not a normal response to stress, but rather a preventable tragedy that often occurs as a result of untreated depression. Also included in the Program is a validated screening tool to assess students for the signs of depression. The screening tool is not diagnostic but indicates the presence of symptoms consistent with depression. The SOS Programs will help you and other school staff members facilitate an open discussion with students about mental health and identify those students who need further evaluation.

As the new school year begins, remember to watch for risk factors for suicide in your students. Think about what protective factors your school currently provides for its students, and identify areas that could be strengthened. Building up protective factors in your school is the first step to developing solid resiliency skills in your students.

If you would like more information on the SOS Signs of Suicide Prevention Programs, please visit the Screening for Mental Health website, email, or call 781-239-0071.