A new study published in The Lancet outlines a program for preventing suicidality among young people. The results provide strong endorsement for a method whereby school students learn to discover signs of mental ill-health in themselves and their friends, while they are also trained to understand, interpret and manage challenging emotions. The European study was led from Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, and researchers now hope to see the method reach a large number of young people in European schools.
In the study, schools were randomized to receive one of three suicide prevention models or alternatively become part of a control group. The three methods were:
- An US method whereby teachers and other school personnel are trained to recognise signs of suicidality and motivate the students to seek help.
- A classroom screening test where psychiatrists, psychologists and counsellors identify students with mental health problems and refer them to treatment.
- The Awareness Programme which was developed by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden and Columbia University in the USA. It is a method whereby students learn both to recognise signs of mental health problems and cultivate good mental health with short lectures, posters in classroom environments and a more comprehensive brochure to take home. Students were also invited to take part in supervised role-play where they could explore their emotions and learn coping strategies for a variety of difficult life situations that could lead to suicidal behaviours. The educational program lasted five hours over four weeks.
No measures were taken in the control group except for putting up the posters that were part of the Awareness Program in the classrooms.
The study provides results showing the effectiveness of the Awareness Program – which gives students a tool to exercise influence over their mental health – in preventing attempted suicide and serious suicidal thoughts with plans how to commit suicide. One year after completing the program, the number of attempted suicides and serious suicidal thoughts and planned suicides in this group was 50% lower compared with the control group. In the two other groups, where the responsibility for the students’ mental health rested exclusively with the teacher or professional health care personnel, the proportion was the same as in the control group.
Population of focus: School students
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Journal: The Lancet