School Takes Suicide, Mental Health Seriously

By Heidi Creighton Ciampa

Correspondent

HARVARD -- The Bromfield School, along with nine other area high schools, is currently participating in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey administered by Emerson Hospital.

This is Bromfield's second year participating in the survey, which is based on the national, school-based survey developed specifically for middle-school and high-school students by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to Bromfield Principal Jim O'Shea, the data resulting from the last year's survey helped shape several new programs and supports those currently in place at Bromfield. This includes the design of the school's new Wellness curriculum and the hiring of a school adjustment counselor.

One specific program that developed out of survey data is the SOS Signs of Suicide® Prevention Program. Suicide is a serious public health problem and is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The SOS High School Program is the only school-based suicide prevention program listed on the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration's National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices that addresses suicide risk and depression, while reducing suicide attempts.


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"Our guidance department is being proactive and we are proud of them," said O'Shea. "We feel that this is a very important and relevant program for all of our students."

Before launching the program, Bromfield School notified both Emerson Hospital and Nashoba Valley Medical Center to let them know they would be participating in the SOS program. The school is also a member of the MSPP INTERFACESM Referral Service, which is available 24/7 to help students and families locate mental health services.

The guidance staff at Bromfield first participated in the "Training Trusted Adults" portion of the SOS High School Program that trains staff how to recognize the signs of suicide and depression. They then presented the program to all participating ninth- and 10th-grade students in their Health and Wellness and Physical Education classes.

Parents were asked to sign an active permission slip for students to participate, meaning that only students with direct permission were allowed to participate in the program. Approximately 75 percent of students participated.

During the training, students watched the video "Friends for Life: Preventing Teen Suicide" and then discussed their feelings and concerns with the guidance counselors. Students also completed the SOS depression screening, called "Being Sad," which is a tool that helps identify students who should be referred for additional mental health screening (versus a diagnostic tool).

The guidance staff taught the students how to use the ACT® technique --- Allege: Listen to your friend, don't ignore threats; C: Let your friend know you care; T: Tell a trusted adult that you are worried about your friend.

Students also received ACT (Acknowledge -- Care -- Tell) wallet-sized cards with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

"The program is really straightforward," explained Drew Skrocki, guidance counselor at Bromfield School. "It tells kids, you cannot keep this secret, that some secrets should be shared, and that depression needs to be treated."

Skrocki indicated that the school is looking to conduct the SOS program annually and include more grades.

The SOS suicide prevention program is a Screening for Mental Health (SMH) program. SMH is a premier provider of mental health screening programs. The nonprofit received a two-year grant from Attorney General Martha Coakley's office that enabled it to provide the SOS program training free of charge to 50 schools in the Commonwealth. One training was offered in March on the South Shore, and an upcoming training will be offered in April in North Hampton, covering the western part of the state. 

"We were able to offer two additional trainings through our important partnership with Teenage Anxiety and Depression Solutions (TADS)," said Rebecca Davis, MSW, LICSW, Youth Programs Manager, Screening for Mental Health. "With support from TADS, the grant, and the Department of Public Health funding more trainings, we really hope to maximize the impact of this critical program." TADS is a local nonprofit out of Groton run by Steve and Deb Boczenowski, who lost their son Jeffrey to suicide in 2009. Bromfield School participated in one of the SMH-TADS trainings in February.

At Bromfield, the guidance staff reports that the program was well-received by both staff and students.

"The students were very engaged and understood the importance of the message being presented," said Skrocki. "They were able to see how key of a role they can play in helping a friend or loved one."