District introduces mandatory suicide prevention program to high school students


The Newtonite

by Sophie King
As part of an increasing effort to address mental and emotional health issues in Newton Public Schools, the district will introduce the Signs of Suicide (SOS), a suicide prevention program, to all high school students in the city this year, according to superintendent David Fleishman’s September update letter.
SOS aims to help students learn and identify signs of depression, and will be district-wide and mandatory for all high school students, not just those who are already known to be at risk.
Additionally, SOS includes an educational component with a video and discussion, as well as a screening tool to assess students for signs of depression, principal Jennifer Price wrote.
The program was piloted in senior English classes at both this school and South last spring. “Both Newton high schools found the program to be useful in finding students in need of further conversations with counseling staff,” wrote Price in her letter.
Last year’s Leadership in a Diverse Society class at this school also piloted the program. Senior Sonya Jampel, a member of that class, said, “It’s a little daunting to have to take responsibility for alerting an adult. But I think the school definitely needs to focus on suicide prevention and I’m glad that something is being done.”
The program will be delivered in one class period by trained counselors and social workers, according to Price. The program aims to prevent students from feeling ashamed about mental health, said guidance department head Beth Swederskas.
Newton Public Schools administrators have been working with Screening for Mental Health, Inc. (SMH), a non-profit organization that develops mental health screening events and educational programs and runs the SOS program.
The program has shown a 40% reduction rate in suicide attempts in a randomized controlled study of 2,100 students in Columbus, GA and Hartford, CT, according to a 2007 report from Biomedical Central, a scientific publisher.
Juniors will participate in their science classes Oct. 22-23 and Oct. 27-30, freshmen will participate Dec. 8-11 and Dec. 15-16, sophomores will participate Jan. 20-22 and Jan. 26-28, and seniors will participate Feb. 2-5 and Feb. 9-10, according to Price.
“We highly recommend you allow your child to be screened,” she added.