In Utah, suicide is the leading cause of death for youth (10-17) and rates remain on the rise. This information is concerning for a variety of reasons, mainly surrounding one main idea: Suicide is preventable. Suicide prevention can be a daunting task, but why not start in the place where youth spend most of their time? Considering mental health problems onset in childhood and often bleed into adulthood, an effective prevention tactic would involve intervention as soon as possible. The Harvard Psychiatry Review, among others, has evaluated the success of school-implemented mental health programs. While expanding access to mental health services may involve some kind of monetary investment, various programs have been designed to be executed in the classroom, making suicide prevention a simple addition to the curriculum.
For example, the FRIENDS For Life program developed in Australia has become a world leader in early intervention and suicide prevention. FRIENDS follows a cognitive behavioral model, which teaches students and parents how to recognize and process feelings that lead to anxiety and depression. It teaches life skills including self esteem, coping mechanisms, problem solving and facing fears. Various studies have reported its success, which could be attributed to its adaptability in the classroom. The program follows a series of activities that can be executed both in the classroom and at home.
FRIENDS is one of the many programs — including Positive Action, MindMatters, Good Behavior Game and many more — that are designed to be implemented into school curricula. In order to prevent youth suicide we must start with early intervention, teaching children coping mechanisms and healthy habits helps take the onus of prevention away from costly mental health services. Effective solutions to suicide prevention already exist; however, it is up to public education to decide if said solutions are worthy of implementation.
Marilisa Vega, Solutions Scholar, University of Utah, Salt Lake City