High school mental health program proven to reduce suicidal thoughts in students

Posted 24th January 2022 in General Sector update

The Black Dog Institute has recently released the findings from the school-based strategy of the LifeSpan suicide prevention trial that ran from 2017 to 2020. The evaluation demonstrated the effectiveness of a school-based program, Youth Aware of Mental Health (YAM), in reducing the presence of suicidal thoughts and behaviour in students aged 13-16. The program was trialled and evaluated in 18 high schools across NSW, in partnership with NSW Department of Education.

YAM involves students participating in five sessions over three weeks, which include group discussions and role plays. Students learn about and discuss everyday mental health issues and explore different strategies to improve problem-solving skills, emotional functioning and help-seeking behaviours when facing challenging real-life situations.

In small groups they identify issues they would like to discuss and then role play ways they might be able to deal with situations under the guidance of trained instructors. Common issues include bullying, peer pressure and problems at home.

Students participating in the program reported reduced presence of suicidal ideation, less severe depression symptoms, and were more likely to seek help for a personal or emotional problem after receiving the program, and this was maintained at six month follow up.

Prior to taking part in the program, 51 per cent of students said they had experienced suicidal ideation in the two weeks prior, while six months later this had dropped to 39 per cent.

“That figure does include passive suicidal thoughts. So the students didn't necessarily have an intent to plan for suicide. But it is still concerning,” said Dr Lauren McGillivray, Post-Doctoral Researcher at the Black Dog Institute, who oversaw the evaluation of the YAM program.

"There are a lot of surveys and hospital data coming out showing that there's a rapid increase in the 15 to 19-year age group for suicidal thoughts and deliberate self-harm to hospitals compared to younger age. So, this middle age of high school is a really important focus for suicide-prevention efforts."

The positive findings in this study are consistent with other large scale research conducted overseas evaluating YAM, and provide the first Australian evidence for the program. Suicide Prevention Australia is calling for more government investment to ensure student-led programs like YAM can be offered to students right across Australia.

Results from the trial have been published in the International Journal of Mental Health Systems.

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