Making Strides in Suicide Prevention Education with AFSP Los Angeles

AFSP Los Angeles is doing exciting work in educating our communities about suicide prevention. As a teacher and a survivor of suicide loss, I realize how vital it is that we empower the members of our communities to feel comfortable asking for help with mental health issues. Kids often don’t know how to help their friends. Parents and teachers may notice changes in teens, but not know when these changes should be concerning. Teens may not know that simply talking to someone can help.

My brother was a 21-year-old college student when he took his own life nearly 30 years ago.  His friends had seen but did not understand the warning signs that put him at high risk for suicide in the weeks before his death.

AFSP’s programs encourage people of all age groups to recognize the signs and symptoms of mental illness and depression, and to take positive steps in seeking treatment for themselves or others. Suicide prevention education is a protective factor, just like programs intended to keep students from dropping out of school. Programs such as More Than Sad and safeTALK provide a strong protective factor for young people struggling with depression or other disorders that put them at risk of suicide.

Recently, AFSP Los Angeles has made enormous strides in our efforts to use education as a tool to prevent suicide in our community. After piloting the More Than Sad program in four schools last spring, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has decided to implement the program in high school classrooms throughout the nation’s second largest school district.

Last fall, AFSP Manager of Education and Prevention Programs Shelby Rowe coordinated with our Los Angeles Area Director Traute Winters to train sixty Psychiatric Social Workers from LAUSD’s School Mental Health Unit. Those social workers are now training school staff and parents on suicide prevention and mental health. In February, our chapter trained staff from ABC Unified School District in Southern Los Angeles County. We will continue to promote More Than Sad in the Southern California area in the coming year. A third school district will soon be using the program, as well.

The response from high school students who have taken the program has been very positive. An overwhelming ninety percent of LAUSD student respondents reported that after viewing and discussing the More Than Sad videos in classrooms, they were more likely to get help if they had symptoms of depression. Nearly all of these students — 93% — also reported being more likely to help a friend who is depressed.

Students who have taken the program are being vocal in their enthusiasm. One student speaking at the LA County Suicide Prevention Summit in October shared how the film helped her recognize that her anger was a form of depression, and that the film encouraged her to seek help. An LAUSD Social Worker who implemented the program spoke about how it encouraged students to seek help. She also reported that numerous teachers requested that she run the program in their classrooms after hearing how successful it had been with their colleagues’ students. Encouragingly, LAUSD School Mental Health Services reported an enormous increase in student help-seeking behavior after implementing More Than Sad in classrooms.

It is imperative that we empower our communities to prevent suicide through education.  All school stakeholders need to know how to recognize when someone is at risk.  Kids must learn how to express themselves, and understand that mental health conditions can happen to anyone. Education empowers us to take an active role in suicide prevention.

The more we know about suicide, the more we know it is preventable. We are hopeful that our More Than Sad programs will continue to benefit students now, as well as further down the line, as these students become adults at the core of our communities who better understand suicide and mental health issues.

Our chapter is working to create a culture in Los Angeles in which all mental health conditions are recognized as legitimate health issues. We are the village, and the more we know, the more we can support each other. Through our efforts, we hope to erase the stigma around suicide, and create a culture that is smart about mental health.



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