According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third leading cause of death among youth ages 15 to 24. To help address this public health issue, Screening for Mental Health, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the improvement of mental health, developed a school-based intervention program entitled, SOS Signs of Suicide Prevention Program (SOS), to prevent suicide among adolescents.
SOS trains students to recognize and respond to the signs of suicide among their peers, and provides them with a self-administered and self-scored screening tool. The program is unique in that, to date, it is the only adolescent suicide prevention program that is demonstrated to significantly reduce suicide attempts. Moreover, because SOS passed the required rigorous evaluation process, the program is included in the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices. Since 2001, SOS has been implemented in 7,000 schools throughout the United States and Canada.
The power and success of the program is demonstrated through its implementation by this month’s featured organization, the Communities Healing Adolescent Depression and Suicide (CHADS) Coalition. Formed in 2004 by parents who lost their son to suicide, the CHADS Coalition has effectively helped schools implement SOS in north St. Louis County, Missouri. For example, in the Ferguson-Florissan School District, CHADS has implemented SOS in 100 percent of schools, and has screened 2,213 students in 3 high schools, 3 middle schools, and 17 elementary schools. Of these students, 410 (19 percent) have come forward seeking help. Without SOS, the problems faced by these individuals could have otherwise gone undetected.
A 20071 study conducted by researchers at the University of Connecticut found that youth in the SOS treatment group were approximately 40 percent less likely to report a suicide attempt in the past 3 months than youth in the control group. The beneficial effects of SOS were observed among high school-aged youth from diverse backgrounds, which highlights the program's usefulness as a universal intervention. Results from the study also showed that knowledge and attitudes around suicide and depression improved following participation in the program.
1Evaluating the SOS suicide prevention program: a replication and extension. Aseltine RH Jr, James A, Schilling EA, Glanovsky J.BMC Public Health. 2007 Jul 18;7:161.