Photo of teen, by Anita Patterson via MorguefileWith suicide ranking third as the leading cause of death in American youth aged 15-24, a new prevention program tested in Ohio schools has proven it can help teens overcome depression and thoughts of killing themselves.

A just-released study shows that the 6000 students who have gone through the program are significantly less likely to report that they are considering suicide, planning suicide or have attempted suicide than before participating in the program.

Developed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Surviving the Teens® is one of the few suicide prevention programs to have data supporting its effectiveness.

”The overwhelming majority of students felt Surviving the Teens helped them to learn suicide warning signs, suicide and depression risk factors, how to effectively cope with stress,” says Cathy Strunk, RN, suicide prevention expert in the division of Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s who developed the program. “They also know the steps to take if they or a friend feel suicidal, and how to talk to their parents and friends about their problems.”

Strunk taught the Surviving the Teens curriculum to more than 6,000 high school students in Warren, Butler and Hamilton counties during the 2008-2009 school year.  For this study, more than 900 were surveyed before going through the program and after completing the program.  More than 400 were surveyed three months later.

The study, conducted by Keith King, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Education, Criminal Justice and Human Services, was published today in the Journal of School Health.

Among the findings three months after the program (compared to surveys taken beforehand):

  • Students who reported considering suicide decreased 65 percent, from 4.2 percent of students to 1.5 percent.
  • Students who reported planning to attempt suicide decreased 48 percent, from 9.9 percent of students to 5.2 percent.
  • Students who reported having attempted suicide decreased 67 percent, from 5.2 percent of students to 1.7 percent.
  • Students who reported feeling sad and hopeless decreased 26 percent, from 22.6 percent of students to 16.8 percent.

“The program taught students how to have more self-confidence and how to engage in positive behavior, which lessens the risk of them contemplating suicide,” says Strunk.

The survey administered immediately after completing the program showed that:

  • Nearly 72 percent of students intended to talk more to their parents about their problems, nearly 81 percent intended to talk to their friends more about their problems, and nearly 90 percent intended to encourage their friends to talk more to them about their problems.
  • Students’ knowledge of depression risk factors suicide risk factors, and suicide warning signs increased significantly.
  • Students intend to seek help if suicidal thoughts increase.

“This study focused on students’ self-reporting, so it is unclear how closely their feelings and attitudes mirror actual behavior,” says Michael Sorter, MD, director of Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s and study co-author. “This is something we need to look at in the future. Even though we don’t claim that Surviving the Teens is the answer to suicidal behavior, we are very encouraged by the research so far indicating how helpful the program might be.”

The curriculum focuses on educating students about the warning signs of suicide in either themselves or friends and how they can get help if they or their friends have suicidal feelings. The program includes a component called Steps to Last™, which assists students in understanding what steps they need to take if they, their friends or family members need help. Learn more at the program’s website.

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