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2000 Oregon Youth Suicide Prevention EDUCATE YOUTH AND YOUNG ADULTS

The Oregon Plan for Youth Suicide Prevention

Resources for Strategy #3

Increase suicide prevention awareness, knowledge, and skills of youth and young adults. The underlying benefit is the creation of school communities in which all members accept responsibility for each other?s safety and can provide a competent initial response to those at risk.

All youth and young adults need to be able to help suicidal peers seek professional care.

Middle and high school-age youth in school and vocational training settings. Youth and young adults in higher education, job corps centers, youth shelters, military installations, detention facilities, and other community settings. Staff responsible for supervising youth in school and community settings.

About one-half of adolescent females and about one-third of males report having talked to someone who was definitely or potentially suicidal,and yet only about 25% told an adult about their suicidal peers. 17 It is important that all youth and young adults have the knowledge, attitudes, and skills to help suicidal peers get professional help.

Evaluation studies indicate that suicide prevention education programs increase the knowledge of students about suicide warning signs and about sources for help and referral.18 Students who participated in such programs were found to be more likely to refer other students to hotlines and crisis centers than students who did not participate.19 Students who participated in a school-based suicide prevention campaign in Washington state demonstrated increased awareness of information about youth suicide prevention, increased ability to recognize indicators of potential suicidal behavior, and a greater likelihood of offering advice to others about how to get help.9

There is no evidence that school-based prevention programs increase the likelihood of suicidal behavior.16 Nevertheless, care should be taken in selecting, designing, and presenting the information to avoid sensationalizing, normalizing, or inadvertently offering how-to instructions for committing suicide.20 As with any sensitive classroom topic, teachers of suicide prevention education should anticipate and plan for the possibility of negative reactions, particularly on the part of students who have had some personal experience with suicide.

Some of the highest risk youth are not in conventional schools. Efforts to reach these youth are especially important to consider.

Classroom curricula should focus on basic knowledge, attitudes, and skills that help students become more confident and competent in helping troubled peers. The curricula should be implemented as part of a comprehensive school program that also includes administrative policies and procedures for dealing with suicide situations; training for all school personnel; three to five classroom lessons for students in health and/or family life studies; presentations to parents; and possibly such other components as school crisis teams, training of community gatekeepers, and or/media campaigns.21

Strategies 7 (Gatekeeper Training (Suicide Intervention Training)), 8 (Screening and Referral), and 13 (Skill-Building Support Groups) are appropriate complements to suicide prevention education programs and consideration of simultaneous implementation is encouraged.1


  • Identify existing suicide prevention education activities and venues within communities where youth aged 10 to 24 receive suicide prevention awareness, information, and skills. Document gaps in services.
  • Select safe, age-appropriate suicide prevention curricula, materials, and programs for use in schools and other community settings.
  • Conduct suicide prevention education and outreach in community venues that serve out-of-school, street, and homeless youth and young adults.
  • Work with school boards, educators, and parents to get suicide prevention education taught to students, supported with training for school staff and parents.

1 U.S.Public Health Service. The Surgeon General?s Call to Action to Prevent Suicide. 1999. Washington,DC.
9 University of Washington, School of Nursing. Washington State Youth Suicide Prevention Program. Report of Activities 1997-1999. 1999. Seattle, Washington.
16 Centers for Disease Control. Youth Suicide Prevention Program: A Resource Guide. 1992. Atlanta.
17 Kalafat J, Elias M. Adolescents?experience with and response to suicidal peers. Suicide Life Threat Behav 1992 Fall; 22(3):315-21.
18Spirito A, Overholser J, Ashworth S, et al. Evaluation of a suicide awareness curriculum for high school students. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry 1988,Nov;27(6):705-11.
19Nelson F. Evaluation of youth suicide prevention program. Adolescence, 1987; 20:813-825.
20Underwood M, Dunne-Maxim K. Managing Sudden Traumatic Loss in the Schools. New Jersey Adolescent Suicide Prevention Project. New Jersey State Department of Education, New Jersey State Department of Human Services, New Jersey State Department of Health & Senior Services, & UMDNJ - University Behavioral HealthCare. 1997. Piscataway, New Jersey.
21Kalafat J, Elias M. Suicide prevention in an educational context: broad and narrow foci. Suicide Life Threat Behav. 1995. Spring; 25(1):123-33.
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