New approach to suicide prevention debuts at John Stark Regional High School

Last modified: Sunday, September 14, 2014
Last week, students in health classes at John Stark Regional High School in Weare received cards with a piece of advice spelled out clearly at the top: “Some Secrets Should be Shared.”

Part of a new program on suicide prevention, the cards go on to explain: “If you are worried about a friend, it’s important to ACT.” That acronym stands for Acknowledge, Care and Tell – acknowledge that your friend’s issues might be serious, show your friend that you care and “tell a trusted adult that you are worried about your friend.”

Health classes at the high school have touched on suicide prevention in the past, Community Outreach Coordinator Patti Osgood said, but not to this extent.

The new approach uses a model called the SOS Signs of Suicide High School Prevention Program, and the materials for the unit address a host of issues that can affect students’ mental well-being: drinking, cyberbullying, online behavior, sexuality and more.

It comes with a checklist of questions about “Life Stressors” (“Are you taking care of yourself physically and emotionally?”) and “Action Steps” (“Build a positive relationship with someone who can offer you support”).

School psychologist Tammy Zielinski learned about the SOS model at a Screening for Mental Health workshop geared toward middle- and high-school educators last year. She, and others at John Stark, liked it because it show students that it’s okay to speak up if they think a friend needs help.

“A lot of times in the counseling center we’ll get referrals from friends – teenagers will go to friends first when they’re really struggling before going to another adult,” Zielinski said. “It’s scary for kids to not know how to deal with a friend who might need help.”

At the end of the unit, students have to complete a form indicating whether – based on what they’ve learned – they need to talk to someone “about myself or a friend.”

The school pledged that any student who said they needed to talk would be contacted for a follow-up within 24 hours, but students who felt like they needed to speak with someone more urgently were urged to approach a school official “immediately.”

The school is also calling students down at random for feedback on the program, Zielinski said, which has the added benefit of making those who might ask for follow-ups feel less isolated when they’re called out of class.

Training for faculty and parents is coming soon, too, Zielinski said.

New Hampshire’s most recent State Suicide Prevention Plan, updated in 2013, states that prevention efforts should extend to schools and supports policies that would “require schools to include mental wellness/suicide prevention education as part of the health curriculum.”

A bill to mandate suicide prevention curriculum in schools was introduced this year, but it did not move forward from committee.

(Casey McDermott can be reached at 369-3306 or 
cmcdermott@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @caseymcdermott.)