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Peers, parents, pros step up to tackle suicide discussion taboo

Published: Wednesday, May 16 2012 9:28 a.m. MDT

He said research finds little evidence that education and awareness alone are effective, but paired with other approaches, like trained screeners, success skyrockets. Florida's South Elgin High School Suicide Prevention Program, for instance, is based on a "care and tell" model that has great results. Its core is teaching that suicidal thoughts are not normal, but are an emergency that must be addressed. Volunteers are eager to listen and help.

Hudnall was among those who set up "Hope Squads" in his district as part of a comprehensive prevention effort that has seen no suicides in the last six years. One of the first things they did was survey Timpview High School students, asking them in every English class to name a student they'd be willing to talk to in a crisis. Some names kept cropping up, "normal kids who were nonjudgmental and very accepting."

That was the first Utah Hope Squad. They did the same thing in middle schools and have now formed teams of caring kids in grade schools, too. Students volunteer to be buddies, to listen, to care to prevent both bullying and suicide. The effort is catching on in other Utah districts. Peer mentoring programs work, according to Education Northwest, a Portland-based organization that applies research-based solutions to the challenges of schools and communities.

It's a truth known nationwide. Christina Collins, on the communications team of the Massachusetts-based nonprofit Screening for Mental Health Inc. heralds an easily launched, cost-effective program called SOS Signs of Suicide, with separate programs tailored for middle school and high school students. The centerpiece is a DVD for students that reveals signs of depression and encourages getting help. The message of SOS is that depression is a treatable illness and teens can learn skills to respond to a potential suicide in a friend or family member using the ACT approach: Acknowledge, Care, and Tell.

An old-age issue

While there's a tendency to focus on youths, with suicide prevention efforts, it's important not to forget that in the United States, the elderly have one of the highest suicide rates, especially elderly white men. A decade ago, older people made up 13 percent of the population, but accounted for 19 percent of the completed suicides, said a study of suicide among the elderly published by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in the journal Clinical Neuroscience Research. It's a little confusing because the attempt rate is higher among youths, but the elderly are more likely to complete a suicide. That trend hasn't changed.

They are not without resources, but some don't avail themselves. Studies found half of suicide victims 80 and older saw their general practitioner in the month before death, 26 percent the week before death and 7 percent the day before. The consultations were, at last half the time, solely for physical complaints.

Email: Lois@desnews.com Twitter: loisco

Get help

National Hotline 1-800-273-8255 (TALK)

UNI Crisis line 801-587-3000

Suicide Prevention Resource Center: www.sprc.org

National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) www/nami.org

Parent Resource Program: www.jasonfoundation.com/community/

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

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