New York Seeking reinforcements in the fight against teen suicide, mental health experts are launching a program in high schools nationwide aimed at encouraging teens to tell an adult if one of their friends confides thoughts of suicide.
The program, which starts in early October at roughly 200 high schools, has a seemingly simple goal: to enable teens to respond to suicide warning signs as competently as someone trained in the Heimlich maneuver would respond to someone choking.
"Talking about suicide is both a symptom and also a communication that needs to be taken seriously," said Dr. Douglas Jacobs, a Harvard Medical School psychiatry professor who is overseeing the program.
"Young people would respond if they saw someone choking or clutching their chest," Jacobs said. "With someone talking about or showing signs of suicide, they should do the same, and we want to provide them the tools."
Though the rate of teen suicides has dipped slightly in recent years, it remains the third-leading cause of death for teen-agers. According to federal estimates, one of every five high school students has thought seriously about attempting suicide, and one in 14 has made an actual attempt.
Jacobs is executive director of Screening for Mental Health, an organization based in Wellesley Hills, Mass., that 10 years ago initiated a still-growing national program to screen for depression.
The new suicide-prevention program is being launched in conjunction with National Depression Screening Day on Oct. 5. Participating schools get a kit that includes posters, instruction material for adult staff, and a 20-minute video for teens that offers "do's and don'ts" in the event a friend shows suicidal signs.