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Suicide prevention program focuses on teens

Research shows 'Signs of Suicide' helps reduce the number of attempts by high school students.

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It may still be a taboo subject in society, but for freshmen at Medway High school, there's no avoiding frank talk about suicide.

In early December, each of the roughly 240 students spent one of their double-period classes watching a video about depression and suicide presented by a counselor. After completing a self-screening survey, they could check off a box if they wanted to talk with someone about themselves or a friend. They left class with handouts reminding them to "ACT": "Acknowledge" if a friend has a problem; "Care" by letting him or her know you want to help; and "Tell" a trusted adult.

That's the key message of the Signs of Suicide (SOS) prevention program. Since 2000-01, more than 3,500 schools throughout the United States have used its materials and training kits to teach students how to recognize and respond to depression and suicidal thoughts.

"People are always telling me that the program has saved lives in their schools," says Sharon Pigeon, manager of SOS at Screening for Mental Health Inc., a nonprofit in Wellesley, Mass.

Ms. Pigeon's own niece, 14 years old at the time, confided in her that a friend had attempted suicide and planned to "do it right" the next weekend. Using materials from SOS, Pigeon persuaded her niece that they should call the school counselor. "Later, the girl said to [my niece and other friends], 'I don't know which one of you told on me, but I'm glad you did because you saved my life,' " Pigeon says.

Her anecdotes are backed up by independent research. SOS is the only school-based curriculum shown to reduce self-reported suicide attempts in randomized controlled studies.

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