Suicide in America Today: Why the Department of Education should begin Nationwide Suicide Prevention Training and Education to School-Aged Children
By Theresa Capobianco
Suicide claims the life of someone every 40 seconds (“Suicide Data”). According to the CDC, suicide has become the third leading cause of death for those between 10-24 years of age. (“Suicide Among Youth”). By now, we should be able to recognize that suicide has surpassed being a public health concern because it has become an epidemic. Suicide is affecting people of all ages across the world (“Suicide Data”). While suicide is preventable, finding a solution remains baffling by even the most educated including, but not limited to, psychiatrists, physicians, government, and even those who run our educational system. For this reason, it is clear, that we need to dedicate our time and resources to finding a solution to suicide. Therefore, the U.S. Department of Education should develop and institute a national suicide education and prevention program among school-aged children because accessing our youth through schools would be a low-cost initiative. In addition, educating our children about warning signs and appropriate responses can aid in suicide prevention. Moreover, the use of pre-screenings for early detection of suicidal tendencies can save lives.
Suicide doesn’t discriminate based on age, sex, race, social class, or cultural background. Suicide can affect anyone given the right amount of life stressors such as depression, bullying, loss of a job or partner, or losing your home could all lead to suicidal ideation (“Suicide Rising”). As a result, it is crucial that we begin teaching our children about suicide, the risk factors, how to help someone in need, and where to go for help. Using our children as a target audience could invoke change from the ground up by using education as a tool to empower our children. Admittedly, our teachers and counselors would have to find time to not only learn the information, but then teach the children when they already have a full schedule. While teachers would need to be trained, the guidance counselor could serve to be the best person to oversee the implementation and program requirements. The guidance counselor would administer screenings, help teach the curriculum, and embrace those children who need the extra support. Most guidance counselors have a degree in psychology, or education, and are generally required to have completed a master’s degree. Therefore, their education and background are well suited for this type of evaluation and help. Some people will argue that the program will interfere with the already heavy curriculum. However, the results of the program will be inconsequential to the time spent.
Our children spend much of their day at school or involved in school activities making this familiar environment the best platform for a captured audience. Some will argue that it will be too expensive to find the time and resources to teach the program. However, Cara Katz, a professor for the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Manitoba, suggests that schools would be a low-cost initiative to prevention education. Kats postulates that various schools have instituted programs for suicide prevention which have been effective and have not hindered the student’s standard curriculum. In addition, guidance counselors are already part of the school budget. Thereby, the school will not incur the cost of additional staff. In a study performed by Katz, and colleagues, they discovered that the Good Behavior Game and Signs of Suicide (SOS) proved to be the most effective programs in suicide prevention and reducing suicide ideation among school-aged children. The Good Behavior Game is currently being used in 38 states and has been around since 1999 (“PAX”). The game is an evidence-based training program which has been designed for the classroom setting to improve a child’s self-regulation and increase pro-social behavior. The game has been proven to improve a child’s academic, behavioral, and attitude throughout life (“PAX”). Elizabeth Schilling, a biostatistician for the University of Connecticut Health Center, shows the effectiveness of the current school-based program, Signs of Suicide (SOS). Schilling, and colleagues, found that the SOS program was successful in reducing suicide attempts and ideation by 64% among high school students. The SOS program serves as a pre-screening tool to help find those who are suffering and direct those people to real treatment options (“Mindwise”).
The use of screenings, among our school-aged children, would provide early detection of suicide ideation. Dr. Sean Joe, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan, reports that screening for suicidal tendencies in children can aid in suicide prevention. In addition, Joe posits that suicide prevention and education can be divided into three categories; schoolwide suicide screening, in-service training for teachers and staff, and curriculum programs. Dr. Joe performed a study to determine how such screenings could be implemented with the use of guidance counselors and social workers. As a result, Joe found that guidance counselors, and social workers, are well-qualified to administer such screenings. One example of an effective risk assessment screening is the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS). The C-SSRS can be quickly administered and has been proven to be successful in the assessment of suicidal ideation among all ages (“Columbia-Suicide”). Furthermore, if a child exhibits signs of suicide or self-harm, the guidance counselors, can always reach out to their local social workers to help intervene. Dr. Joe postulates that social workers play an instrumental role in today’s schools. Thus, social workers can use their experience relating to suicide risk assessment and management to assist in reviewing the screening results and determine the proper solutions for those who exhibit signs of suicidal tendencies (Pederson).
Teaching our youth about the warning signs and how to respond appropriately will prevent suicide. Some parents may have concerns about the nature of the program and the discussion of suicide in general. However, eliminating the disconnect, or stigma, among children and suicide can empower our children to help others and themselves through knowledge. Dr. Corinne David-Ferdon, who works for the CDC, has addressed suicide with an approach to teach protective factors throughout life. There are techniques currently being used, and proven successful, by organization’s which have fostered the same ideology in their own training and approach (David-Fernon). Such programs include the Air Force Suicide Prevention Group. The Suicide Prevention Group was designed with a focus on personal training, teaching help-seeking behavior and coping mechanisms to our veterans. Teaching our children similar techniques to deal with social stressors such as depression or bullying can be utilized now and carried on throughout the child’s life. Moreover, Dr. Tulin Fidan, an assistant professor for Eskisehir Osmangazi University, performed a controlled study of patients that were and were not suicidal. Dr. Fidan discovered that better coping strategies, along with family support, can prevent suicide thoughts and actions. Further, effective coping mechanisms provide emotional stability which lead to better decision-making abilities as well as being able to handle life’s hardships (Steele).
We can’t wait any longer to address the issue of suicide. Our schools are the perfect forum for a controlled environment with an audience that can learn a new way to deal with suicide. The schools are already equipped to handle the implementation of a suicide program with guidance counselors to administer screening and training. If the child deems further need, our social workers can come to the rescue and help the child get the attention he or she needs. There are effective screening methods to detect suicide ideation before it becomes an action. Empowerment and knowledge should play a significant role in the prevention of suicide. By starting with our children, we will be able to create a new thought pattern which will act as a wave of change for the generations who follow. The Department of Education makes great strides for the betterment of, and education for, children of all ages. Therefore, prevention and training should be paramount to helping those same children stay alive. Who better than the Department of Education to lead the way.
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