As a topic of conversation, suicide is on a par with STDs – sexually transmitted diseases. The latter, as a known danger to sexual health, are openly discussed and debated in schools and colleges with young people in relation to their existence, prevention and treatment.
“STDs and how to avoid them” is included, directly or indirectly, in biological modules of relationship education curricula in schools and colleges. Awareness and prevention are symbiotic and straightforward: STDs may be acquired by contact with an infected person’s body fluids, so prevention asks you to be careful and selective in the company you keep, enquiring from potential partners about their sexual health, making appropriate use of condoms, regularly checking yourself for signs of infection and seeking medical help as appropriate. Awareness is prevention.
This is clearly not the case regarding suicidal behaviour. Avoidance of suicide appears to rely almost exclusively upon an individual’s choice, or otherwise, of a non-lethal strategy to survive a life crisis. But, unless our educational curricula have recently and radically changed, suicide awareness, as an approach to suicide prevention, is not addressed and targeted in anything like the imaginative, resourceful yet realistic way that STD awareness is.
“Suicide and how to stay alive in a life crisis”? Is this a possible additional module for inclusion in relationship education, or in citizenship education, or wherever is appropriate within in schools’ and colleges’ curricula? At face value it sounds attractive, seems fairly light on resource use and could be potentially effective in saving lives through education in suicide awareness. To assess this and in the absence of firm evidence of the efficacy of local suicide prevention interventions, I referred to a recently published evaluation of best American practice in schools-based interventions.
A US review (*York et al., 2013) assessed the effectiveness of youth suicide prevention interventions, by evaluating a total of 16 studies, of which 15 were school-based studies. The review’s findings were disappointing: results indicated that although adolescent students’ knowledge and attitudes about suicide were positively affected by suicide-related curricula, there was only a negligible effect on suicidal behaviours. The review’s authors recommended even more strenuous efforts to combat youth suicide including establishing guidelines, funding advanced training and encouraging community/university/school partnerships, for evaluation of schools-based interventions.
608 words (excl reference below)
*York, J., Lamis, D.A., Friedman, L., Berman, A., Joiner, T.E., McIntosh, J.L., Silverman, M.M., Kanick, L., Gutierrez, P.M. and Pearson, J. (2013) A Systematic Review Process to Evaluate Suicide Prevention Programmes: a sample case of community-based programmes. Journal of Community Psychology, 41,1, 35-51.