News Release

March 3, 2004

Embargoed until Wednesday, March 3, 4 p.m. EST

Contact: Jane Shaskan, 860-679-4777

School-Based Suicide Prevention Program Shows Success

First Study to Look at Innovative Program to Prevent Suicide in Young People

FARMINGTON, CONN. – For the first time, a school-based suicide prevention program has been shown to reduce suicidal behavior in high school students. Students who participated in the program, called “SOS [Signs of Suicide] High School Suicide Prevention Program,” showed a 40 percent reduction in suicide attempts according to a study published in the February 26 edition of the American Journal of Public Health.

“Our analysis suggests that many of the positive results of the SOS program on self-reported suicide attempts are a result of improved understanding and attitudes about depression and suicide learned through the program,” said lead author and principal investigator Robert Aseltine, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Community Health at the University of Connecticut Health Center.

“For the first time in 20 years of research on school-based suicide prevention programs, we are seeing a program that is not just increasing knowledge and changing attitudes about suicide – it is actually reducing suicidal behavior,” Dr. Aseltine said. “That is unique.”

The randomized controlled study, co-authored by Robert DeMartino, M.D., Center for Mental Health Services, Substance Use and Mental Health Services Administration, was conducted in three Hartford high schools and two in Columbus, Georgia, with 2,100 students participating. Students were randomly selected and participated in the program either in the first half of the school year, or the second half. About three months after the first group completed the program, and before the second group started, both groups were given brief, self-administered questionnaires about depression and suicide.

The program teaches high school students to recognize and respond to the signs of suicide as a medical emergency that requires immediate medical intervention, just like a heart attack. It uses a unique combination of two prominent suicide prevention strategies – course-based instruction on depression and suicide, and depression screenings.

Teens are instructed on how to acknowledge the warning signs of suicide; take those signs seriously; genuinely care about the person exhibiting the symptoms; and tell a responsible adult – ACT, acknowledge, care and tell. The program is designed to be easily duplicated in a variety of school settings using existing personnel during one or two classroom periods and costing less than 40 cents per student. Currently more than 1,300 schools nationwide have implemented the program.

“For most teens, peers become the center of social involvement and emotional investment, so tapping into that peer group is key. By teaching teens to recognize the signs of depression and giving them the tools to intervene when a friend shows suicidal symptoms, SOS capitalizes on this central feature of their development,” said Dr. Aseltine.

SOS is a program of Screening for Mental Health, Inc., a non-profit organization in Wellesley, Mass., Former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher highlighted the SOS program when presenting the National Strategy to Prevent Suicide in May 2001, and it was recently designated as a “promising program” by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, making it the only suicide prevention program selected for its National Register of Effective Programs.

For more information about Screening for Mental Health, Inc. visit

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