“SOS” Suicide Prevention Program Increases Knowledge and Provides Tools

Suicide among adolescents continues to be a concern, with the United Health Foundation reporting the number of such deaths per 100,000 Massachusetts young people aged 15-19 at 4.8.  Preventive measures need to begin early, and that is why the Arlington Public Schools has offered the evidence-based SOS Signs of Suicide® Prevention Program to seventh grade students at the Ottoson Middle School for over 10 years. The program by MindWise Innovations was presented again this October, and for the first time, eighth grade students received a refresher course.

The goal of the program is to provide the knowledge and tools that enable young people to respond effectively when they have concerns about their own well-being or that of a friend. They learn how to utilize a peer-to-peer help-seeking model known as ACT®:

  • Acknowledge the concerns you or others may have 
  • Care by being willing to listen and take all concerns seriously
  • Tell a trusted adult

Seventh grade students participated in a lesson which is a series of three situations where they were asked to recognize some of the warning signs of depression or suicide and how to A-C-T. Eighth grade students participated in a refresher lesson that included a vignette from the seventh grade and a follow-up story of a high school student who was depressed and suicidal, and how he got help to feel better. Then they completed a coping skills activity that aligned with ACT called My Plan to Act. This tool ensures that the young people have understood the lessons and are prepared to act now or in the future.

All participating students were also screened for anxiety and depression following the lesson. The screening is designed to bring possible at-risk students to the attention of the staff so that appropriate follow-up can be done to determine if further evaluation is necessary. There is no attempt made to diagnose students.

Prior to the administration of the program, all parents of seventh and eighth grade students received an explanative communication that included links to the screening tools that would be used and a link to get more information and resources. Parents were also given the option to exempt their children from attending if they chose.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness,  “...17% of youth (6-17 years) experience a mental health disorder.” Additionally, “Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people aged 10-14.”  A program such as SOS that leads to earlier recognition and treatment of anxiety and depression is an important tool in the efforts to reduce these deaths.